Editor's note: This updates with latest details on extent of slide, adds another photo and locator map.
A landslide possibly triggered by heavy rains has severed the main route across Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Newfound Gap Road, and it could be a while before the road reopens, park officials said Wednesday.
Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson was driving across the park Wednesday morning when he noticed something unusual about a stretch of the road near Collins Creek on the North Carolina side of the park. He notified park maintenance staff to check it out, and when they reached the area they found the road had slid away. No one was injured by the slide, according to park officials.
The stretch in question is near mile marker 22 between Collins Creeks and Webb Overlook. Park officials estimated the slide to involve a 300-foot section of road extending 1,000 feet down slope and encompassing roughly 90,000 cubic yards of material. The closure is expected to be in effect for an extended period of time.
Elizabeth Dupree, the park's chief of resource education, said crews were undertaking a complete assessment of the 45-mile-long road to check for other areas that might have been weakened by heavy rains.
As of midnight, Tuesday, January 15, the park received 8.56 inches of rain measured at Cherokee, 7.4 inches at Newfound Gap and 6.86 inches at LeConte. Rivers and streams have been running fast and high since Sunday when the rains began. There are currently multiple temporary road closures throughout the park due to high water.
Park officials hope to soon open the Newfound Gap Road to visitors from the Gatlinburg Entrance in Tennessee to Newfound Gap Parking lot. Additionally, the road will be open to Smokemont on the North Carolina side.
Until the road is repaired, motorists will have to detour around the park via U.S. 321 and U.S. 40.
Park staff were working with the Department of Federal Highway’s Construction and Geotechnical Services to evaluate the slide damage and to begin planning for repairs.
For the most current road closure reports, please call 865-436-1200 x 631 or follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on Twitter.