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Great Smoky Mountains National Park's "Road to Nowhere" Saga Set to End Saturday


A decades-long dispute is expected to come to an end Saturday when Interior Secretary Ken Salazar travels to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to sign off on a monetary settlement over the "Road to Nowhere" saga.

The road, of course, was the proposed 34-mile-long North Shore Road that was to run along the north shore of Fontana Lake. As Danny Bernstein noted back in December, in 1943, the federal government promised to build a road from Fontana Lake to Bryson City after World War II if Congress appropriated the money. For many years, this promise lay dormant; meantime, a new, modern highway, NC 28, was constructed outside the park. From Fontana Lake, less than a mile of road was built.

For years after TVA flooded NC 288, there was no practical way for descendants to take care of the graves left behind. It took until 1976 for the former residents to have a reunion outside of Bryson City. In the late 1970s, Boyd Evison, the superintendent at the time, issued a press release asking cemetery visitors to not leave plastic flowers or other non-biodegradable containers because there was no way to dispose of them. This was the kind of decree that give “outsiders” and the federal government a bad name. According to knowledgeable locals, “that’s what started the whole cemetery issue.”

The group created a cemetery association and threatened to sue the park over transportation to the cemeteries, and free transportation started across Fontana Lake. It’s supposedly for descendants and friends, but anyone can get on the boat; you don’t need a connection with the graves. When the descendants and friends get off the boat at Proctor, they don’t even have to walk the short distance to the cemetery. They are transported by buses and vans to the cemetery site.

The North Shore Road issue was revived again in 2001 when former Congressman Charles Taylor, a Republican from western North Carolina, obtained $16 million for further construction of the North Shore Road. This set off a process that looked into the environmental impact of the proposed road. The National Park Service held public input forums in various locations around the Smokies and accepted comments from anyone in the U.S. on various ways to resolve the 1943 agreement.

The road was expected to cost nearly $600 million and take about 15 years to build. Conservation groups argued it would have cut through the "largest unbroken tract of mountain forest on federal land in the East, on the North Carolina side of the park, leaving a gash on the landscape that would be visible for miles." Additionally, they claimed the road would bisect the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, destroy 28 miles of the Benton MacKaye Trail, and threaten 140 mountain streams.

Thousands of pages were generated, reviewed, and discussed. Descendants of the original settlers were the only ones who wanted a road in the park. Almost all comments were against the road and for a financial settlement with Swain County, where Fontana Dam is located, one of the four parties to the original agreement.

Well, come Saturday the financial settlement -- expected to total $52 million -- is expected to be signed off on by Secretary Salazar and local officials during a meeting in the Bryson City Town Square in Bryson City, North Carolina.

“With the help of Congressman Shuler, the commitment of the Obama administration, and the hard work of many people, we are closer than ever to resolving the long-standing dispute over the North Shore Road in Swain County, North Carolina,” said the secretary on Tuesday. “I look forward to traveling to North Carolina this weekend for what I expect will be a great - and long overdue - celebration.”


52 million to buy my heritage. Sure wish i could find my gr gr grandparents. id rather have the land back than the county get paid.

I am a direct descendant of Nathan Moses & Rutha West Pilkington. Both buried in a family cemetery with other family members at Pilkey's creek on the North Shore of Fontana Lake. My family has been in North Carolina since this nation was a nation & fought in every war since the Revolutionary War. If I may please let me share a few things. If you would please put yourself in our shoes for just one moment & then tell me what you think. For some it is all about the money for others its all about righting an injustice to our ancestors & family's.

Eminent domain is enacted in this country if there is a clear cut reason what is taken will benefit the many. Fontana Dam was needed to help the United States out produce Hitler & his henchmen. I have never heard anyone say different about the dam. The land around what would become the lake was made residential a long time before the lake was ever thought about. That land should have never been taken & serves not the public being used as it has been since it was taken. Today for instance if a lake or hydro project is brought to fruition only the land needed for water storage is taken. The land where the lake ends still belongs to whom ever owned it. The amounts paid at the time for the land was a joke. The government paid some for a thousand acres what wouldn't buy a hundred acres in adjoining county's. God forbid if you were behind on paying your taxes when the government wanted the land because then they paid you nothing & simply kicked you off. If you didn't like the government's offer or didn't want to sell then that was to bad because they would open you an account in a local bank & deposit what they wanted you to have. I have never seen one document where the government paid what would have been fair market value.

If you own land today & want to be buried on it you can. If the land is sold whom ever buys it has to allow the family of the deceased access to visit the cemetery. They can not dig up the deceased from there earthly resting place & just move them. Those people had several thriving community's & worked hard for what they had. So why is it ok yesterday or today to take what those people worked so hard for? How can it be ok to even consider moving them? If we allow them to take this from us with out it being used for the betterment of all then whats to keep them from taking what you have for no reason? If we continue to bury people sooner or later there will be no land for the living right? So why not just dig up all the dead now & cremate them? Sound crazy? Just as crazy to me as someone wanting to move my family for no reason.

Home of the free, Land of the Brave... I knew a man who was born, raised & lived next to Pilkey Creek on the north shore. His family had a small grist mill & they worked hard for little. He was a strapping young lad in the forty's that knew as so many others, not only what this country but the world was up against. He left his boyhood home, family & all he knew to join the armed services to fight the scourge known as Hitler. Being a part of the "greatest generation" he stepped up putting his life as so many others on the line day after day to make sure you & I today could be free. When the war was over he was honorably discharged from the armed services. Upon his return from Europe imagine his surprise coming home to find out that he had no home. While he was gone the very people & government he served so honorably took his home, land & all he knew. It wasn't under the lake it sat above the high water mark. Kicked off his land he was then told he would be granted at very least a way for him to visit the family that was buried on the family land. The forty's passed, The fifty's pass, Sixty's, Seventy's & into the Eighty's before there was a way made for him to visit his Mother, Father, Brother, or a Uncle who fought in the Civil War once a year. That's not really fair because if he wanted to he could hike more than seven miles to have seen his family anytime he liked. On to the ninety's & a new millennium but a simple promise made to him was never kept. I was told he recently passed away never seeing the promise made to him by a government he served honorably & respected fulfilled. If that man could do what was honorable & right why can't a government that profess' to be his? ONCE A YEAR the park service provides a pontoon boat to the family Graves. What about those like me who are disabled? or elderly? Should we be made to hike the seven miles to the family cemetery? In the future will the park service provide us a way to the family cemeteries?

The governments involved have waited out those they made the promise to. The family's have since long ago gone on with their lives. The ones who made the promise hope that as time goes by the direct descendants who were alive would pass away. Thus other generations would not know or forget those who were buried on the old family plots. I live currently in Georgia. I never knew about the injustice done to my family until a few years ago. I wish I had been able to be more involved in the process to bring the road for my children to be able to know more & understand more about there ancestors & how they lived. To me this would be a much better use of those public lands than a few hiking over them once or twice a year!

When the road was promised to be replaced it wouldn't have cost $600 million. I seriously doubt that it would cost that today. Although it would affect some streams & land there are no endangered species to consider. There are hundreds of miles of road thru the smokey mountain park. Is there anyone who really believes that replacing a road that was once there would really do any harm to the park? It would only serve to make more of the park accessible to the general public (Which is what public lands are suppose to be for) but more importantly to those who have family who are buried there. Let's not forget the hikers. The Appalachian trail covers a lot of miles & I have never heard anyone say that because they had to cross a road that it made the hike any less beautiful or challenging.

Swain county should be the LEAST of any to receive any monies period! They owned none of the land taken. Yes it is true they lost some tax revenue but it was only for years after the government took the land & kicked the residents off. They collected taxes for the years family's owned & lived on the land. Why should the federal government pay a local government taxes? If the feds pay then it sets a president for all local government's to charge the federal government taxes on all public lands! If they wanted to have a larger tax base why didn't they stop the project or keep the lands around the lake privately owned? So the answer is pay swain county a few million the families nothing & everyone goes on about there way? Is that really fair?

What ever happened to honoring your word, the dead or respect? I would bet if there was anyone else out there that the government made a promise to you would do your best to hold them to that promise right? Did you over pay on your taxes last year? Would it be ok with you if the government just kept your refund? If its ok for the government to take & keep something that is yours that is not being used for the greater public benefit then you should be on there side. If you think that the fed government should pay local government's taxes for federal lands then you should be on there side. If you think nether of these are right & the federal government should honor there word to the citizens you have no other choice than to be with the family's!

We have not because we ask not. The world use to be a better place because men honored & respected themselves. Then expected others to do the same. Our government can give Afghanistan & other countries millions upon millions for nothing at all. Then there is "pork barrel" spending every year into the billions but they can't keep there word given to the very citizens that made this country & the modern world what it is today...

The promises made kept, The road put in & the land taken should be used by everyone conforming to the definition of eminent domain. No one should be able to sign any agreement but those involved. IE The federal Government & those family's who's land was taken. Where there are family cemeteries a placard of some kind placed & all descendant's should be allowed to use the land at any time for no fees.

What are we if not the collective lives of all those who come before us? Do we not owe them our very lives? So PLEASE before you voice your opinion put yourself in the family's shoes. If you were wronged then of course you would want things made right just as we do.

Thank you,
Brian Lane Pilkington
Descendant of Nathan Moses & Rutha West Pilkington
Buried in the Pilkington Family Cemetery, Pilkey Creek

The comparison was not the sacrafice, it was ACCESS. The cemeteries are still 'family plots' and were not sold to the federal government. The North Shore residents were PROMISED they'd be able to go back after the war, and many were told they could go back 'home'. They lied about the road, the agreement made in 1943, and probably now in 2010. Part of the money was from the NPS budget and the largest portion was hid in the defense budget. And if future allocations aren't made, it ends in 2020, regardless. You would feel different if it was your folks who got taken. You need to see how broken-hearted most become. Most are now in their 80's and 90's and aren't physically able to walk to the cemeteries........

In 1943, the entire nation was very patriotic and many were asked/told to sacrifice and all did (including those more than 400,000 American soldiers/sailors/aviators who died in the war to keep the war off of OUR doorsteps). To compare the sacrifice of 2,000 on the northshore with the sacrifice of those memorialized at Pearl (2,400 dead, not displaced, dead) and Arlington (300,000 military graves) is a vain appeal to emotion that cheapens the ultimate sacrifice made by the hundreds of thousdands who died for all of us.

Many made sacrifices large and small and many got screwed in the process, and unlike a minority who are busy throwing an extended tantrum, most people got over it.

In 1943, the folks in Swain and Graham County were very patriotic. TVA and other government officials took advantage of these folks telling them it was their patriotic duty to give up their lands to support the war effort. More power was needed for the Oak Ridge (nuclear) project and to produce aluminum at Alcoa for aircraft. A lot of these folks were not fairly compensated for their lands and several were told they would be able to move back after the war. The settlement was not a specific earmark: $4 million came from the NPS budget and $8.8 was hidden in the military budget. Time will only tell if this, too, is a broken promise like all those made in 1943. Facts are the land above the flood elevation were illegally taken by TVA and later transferred to the National Park. This land, if it was still in private ownership, would be worth a lot more in Swain County's taxbase then any $52 Million settlement. And this still does not resolve getting friends and descendants of the North Shore families back to their homeplaces and cemeteries. Over 2,000 people were displaced, 14 communities uprooted with thriving businesses, farms, sawmills, two copper mines, orchards, churches, schools, and more. Why can I go to Pearl Harbor on any day and get a free boat ride to the Arizona, yet I can't here. Or go to Arlington and be ridden in a golf cart all over, and I have to walk 7+ miles to get to some of the graves on the North Shore. And when the Park Service does have shuttles, over half are left on the lake shore because there isn't room............the issues are more than money or a road.

it was the tennessee valley authority who started this whole mess
convinced the land owners there land was needed so lake fontana could produce hydroelectric power to win world war II
convinced the land owners there land would be returned after the war was won
majority of the men went to war and families moved out of swain county
instead after wwII TVA deeded the lakeshore to the park service
they began building the road, even a 1200 ft tunnel drilled before they ran out of money---SWAIN WILL NEVER GET ALL THE FEDS PROMISED---
CORRECTION a pontoon boat is only provided one weekend a year by the park service during the annual PROCTOR cemetary visitation, no buses/vans are available


It was put in writing that a road would be built with the thought that the road be an avenue of TRANSPORTATION between Bryson City and Deals Gap. Cemetery access never was the intended or stated purpose, and NC28 fully satisfies the "here to there" spirit of the agreement.

On the other hand, it was the assumption of the displaced residents that the road would have the secondary effect of providing access to the region (and presumably the cemeteries as well) that more than likely put their minds perhaps a bit more at ease over the agreement. Disappointed, and rightly so, that no road was built providing direct access to the region but instead providing only the intended Bryson City to Deals Gap access, the outcome did not sit well with either the displaced or their descendants.

The issue of cemetery access (as a political issue) was manufactured in the 70's by those displaced and their descendants not because they were so much de-facto betrayed (a road to Deals Gap was in place), but because their expectations were betrayed. On either side of the issue, selective parsing and interpretation the agreement yielded two very different conclusions about whether or not the agreement had been effectively honored.

While it can be argued persuasively that since the agreement did specify a northshore road, then a northshore road it must be, it can also be persuasively argued that practicality made a southshore road a more immediately realizable alternative. Which argument an individual might find persuasive depends upon factors which are obvious.

The former residents and their descendants were betrayed badly in spirit, but not in fact.

I recall speaking with David Monteith some years back during the circus that was one of the public comment sessions that were being held at the time. After agreeing with him on many of the principles he spoke of, he was perhaps a bit nonplussed to learn that I personally did not support the northshore road, but we parted with the positive understanding that while I don't share his passion (it's simply not in my blood), that when retelling the story to those not familiar, I would always endeavor to tell both sides (obviously with the understanding that I was not personally affected) and keep my own opinions out of it until the telling was done.

The settlement as it stands is a "fait accompli", and inasmuch as I (here on the outside) am satisfied along with many in Swain County, those, like David, who fought and stood (and still stand) for their beliefs can never be made whole by this. Fine folks, all of them, and if the road had been built, I would have felt a certain loss for what is important to me, but I wouldn't be left with this hollow-feeling I carry for their loss.

Of course, most of you have missed all points. People were displaced from their homes and properties which they crudely farmed; they were poorly compensated and and sent packing to start their lives over - completely.

Someone on this board asked why they didn't move the remains? BECAUSE THE GOVERNMENT PUT IN WRITING THAT THEY WOULD BUILD A ROAD TO ACCESS THESE CEMETERIES. So why would they?

If you entered into a real estate agreement with a party who agreed in contract to fulfill certain obligations as a condition of your moving, and reneged, then every last one of you would sue that party for breach of contract, yet most of you fail to see the same in this case.

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