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Contract Issued For "Missing Link" on Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park


A contract has been awarded to construct the "missing link" needed for the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Digital rendering via NPS.

Work was scheduled to commence today on construction of the "missing link" along the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The nearly $25 million project will add an 800-foot-long bridge soaring across the park's landscape to connect the eastern end of the unfinished Wears Valley stretch of parkway to the Walland segment of the parkway, park officials said. When completed in November 2011, the bridge is expected to be a "graceful, elevated roadway that forms a serpentine curve and will be supported by four piers up to 100 feet above the ground as it carries the road across two ravines on the south slope of Chilhowee Mountain," they said. "It is the longest single bridge needed to complete the 'missing link.'"

“Many people are familiar with the iconic Linn Cove Viaduct that carries the Blue Ridge Parkway around Grandfather Mountain,” said Great Smoky Superintendent Dale A. Ditmanson. “This new bridge is very nearly as long as that structure and likely to become just as note-worthy.”

The national park and the Federal Highway Administration are also working to finalize a contract to continue construction on the western, or Walland, end of the “missing link” working eastward from bridge 8 towards Wears Valley. They expect that work to begin in the fall of 2010.

“The first construction on the Walland to Wears Valley segment of the Foothills Parkway began in the late 1960s, and has progressed sporadically since that time," Superintendent Ditmanson said. "We have set a goal to get that segment completed in time for the National Park Service’s Centennial in 2016 and are optimistic that that can be done, so that visitors can enjoy the unparalleled vistas that this segment will provide.”

Currently, the partially-completed sections of the parkway extending nine miles east from Walland, and four miles west from Wears Valley, are open for recreational use by hikers, cyclists and equestrians. Park officials plan to close the east end to all public use in mid-March when major construction begins. In the meantime, visitors using this section should be mindful that the contractor will be traveling this section in motor vehicles.

The $24.7 million contract for the "missing link" bridge was awarded to Bell & Associates Highway Construction of Brentwood, Tennessee, which will design and construct the bridge. The contract was funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


As a resident of Wears Valley, I am happy to see the work being completed on the Foothills Parkway. They are hauling large concrete pieces in by tractor/trailer and I assume these pieces will be used for the bridges construction.
The completiton of the Parkway will almost eliminate the use of Highway 321 between Townsend and Wears Valley which is a twisty road and the scene of many accidents and fatalities. Police cars and ambulances pass my home at least once a week heading in that direction during the toursist season. The completiton of the Parkway will be a shorter and faster route from Walland to Wears Valley.
Maps are already printed for distribution to the public by area retailers which puts an emphasis on the Parkway "shortcut" and guides the tourist to Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg via Walland and Wears Valley and via Little Cove Rd. This will be a relief from the congestion at I-40's Exit 407 as travelers from the West will be able to cut miles off their route by taking the Parkway.
The roads around the Great Smoky Mountains have not kept up with the growth of the National Park. Completion of the Foothills parkway will be a big step towards Park accesibility although this may have a economic effect on Townsend which stands to lose a lot of traffic flow.

As a Motorcyclist, I am truely offended that my law abiding, unmodified motorcycle would be unwelcome on a public road. I suppose, Anonymous, all of your motor vehicles still wear all the stock EPA mandated controls that have been required by law since September 1, 1967, and that you have never broken any traffic laws while operating your vehicles.

The foothills parkway from walland to wears valley is closed for construction until 2016.  As far as leaving it alone,  I disagree with it.   The whole entent of the Foothills and Blue Ridge Parkways was considered Senic Byways for all to be able to enjoy.  These byways are meant to be seen and not used by a select few.   Complaining about something that has been in the works for over 50 years is crazy.  There has been hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the foothills parkway and we need to be able to use it as taxpayers for what it was intended.  If it is not completed, it is an insult to all that fills up a tank of fuel or fills out a tax return.  GET  IT BUILT AND LET US SEE THE VIEWS.  There is plenty of greenways and bikeways for people to enjoy without holding progress hostage.  If you want to find a secluded area with no traffic find a trail inside the park boundries or purchase your own private land.  Some of us welcome progress.

You all complaining about the tourists need to realize that is the reason we can have schools, roads, quality infastructure and greenways for bikes and hikers to use and enjoy without insane taxes.  There is so many places in our great country that would only pray for what blessings we have because of tourisim.  Ask anybody in the peaceful side of the smokies that has closed a buisness and lost their livelyhoods or homes which one they would rather have.  If it was not for tourisim the smokies would still be a stretch of mountians that are logged, farmed, or mined everyday.

The Parkway needs to remain uncompleted.  It will only bring more noise and traffic to an already over- motorized park.
Does anyone know where I can get a map of the route of the completed Parkway from Walland to Cosby?

Don, we asked your question of Great Smoky Mountains National Park public affairs officer Molly Schroer and she said "both the Walland and Wears sections of Foothills Parkway are closed to all visitor use as they are still under construction. Under the current construction contract we expect the completion to be sometime in 2015." Hope this helps. Randy Johnson/ NPT Travel Editor

Does anyone down there know if either section (Walland, Wears) is open to bike/hiking at this point? Have really enjoyed riding the "closed" sections in the past and just hoping to be able to do more time... this coming May (2012).
Any updates are really appreciated!

We recently visited Townsend, TN for a family reunion and heard about the "missing link".  What are you thinking?  We traveled on E. Miller Cover Rd. which is used by school buses and the road is deplorable.  How can you think of putting in another road for tourists and ignore the safety of your children and residents?  As a tourist I can tell you there are enough roads to travel now.  Please leave this stretch untouched and keep it for non=vehicular traffic.  The peaceful side of the Smokies is no longer peaceful.  The motorcycles completely runined our vacation.  I can't imagine opening this road to traffic and having another road to maintain .  LEAVE IT ALONE AND LET THE SMOKIES AND THE WILDLIFE BE AT PEACE.

What a shame that Superintendent Ditmanson lacked the skills to block further road construction in the Smokies.

When many people feared that the massive effort to push experienced NPS people out the door would mean naive or politically vulnerable people would be the last line of defense for parks, Mr. Ditmanson advocated that young people had the ability to lead the parks, and many hoped when he was appointed superintendent he was right.

When politicians who advocated for road building in the Smokies were defeated in elections a few years ago, many hoped it would be an easier fight for the park, and the Smokies would be safe from road building, or extravagant engineering design statements in this National Park.

There was a time when the areas around parks were undeveloped, you could argue that the national parks needed roads. Now, when development everywhere is hemming in the few remaining wild places, it makes no sense to build roads in the parks. Especially on the argument that road traffic is incomplete and needs to be improved !

Can you imagine Superintendent Ditmanson's finding for "unimpairment"?

Who wants to bet that his argument was that this road building feat is not impairment at all, because he could have impaired the park even worse without the bridge?

And how can it be argued that the park needs to facilitate the traffic? It is already one of the most-visited parks, without this non-impairment 'improvement.'

We need a way to train prospective superintendents to develop the political skills to protect the parks, before we hand them the keys to the family jewels.

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