Park plans to begin stimulus-funded projects

Officials at Great Smoky Mountains National Park say they expect to award the first round of contracts to improve the Park’s facilities using the $64 million that the Smokies is receiving under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) by late August. They are also working to minimize the disruption that the work will have on visitor use of the Park.

“The projects that can be accomplished using day-labor workers is funded at $1.2 million and is already underway,” said Park Deputy Superintendent Kevin FitzGerald. “Work is on-going to make improvements to 10 different trails and over 60 historic cemeteries. All the rest of the projects will be completed by private contractors. We expect to begin awarding an estimated $7.5 million worth of contracts by late August so that work can begin right after Labor Day.”

FitzGerald said that the park plans to contract for four projects in this next phase. One to repave the Cosby Campground, one to reconfigure and repave the Sinks Parking Area along Little River Road, another to paint and/or re-roof 34 buildings throughout the Park, and a fourth contract to remodel comfort stations at five locations to make them accessible to the handicapped.

Park managers have announced that the Cosby Campground, which normally operates through October, will be closed for the season the day after Labor Day so that the paving work can be completed this fall before the weather turns cold enough to shut down paving operations. It is expected to re-open on schedule next March.

The Sinks Parking Area will also be closed after Labor Day. For safety reasons, no visitor access will be allowed into the parking area, overlook, and river in the immediate vicinity of the Sinks during construction. The Meigs Creek Trailhead will also be inaccessible during the construction period. That work is expected to be completed in May 2010.

FitzGerald said, “The work at the Sinks will be a huge improvement over the current situation. In addition to expanding and reconfiguring the parking area to improve both the capacity and motorist safety, we will be constructing a formalized masonry overlook platform that will provide an optimal view of the falls and be fully accessible to the disabled.”

The Park expects that visitor impact from the comfort station remodeling to be minimal. Two restrooms, one at the Deep Creek Picnic Area, and one at the Twin Creeks Picnic Pavilion will be torn down and replaced with brand-new structures, but the Park plans to do that work during the fall/winter months when those facilities are closed for the season.

Multiple restrooms will also be improved at the Smokemont, Elkmont and Cades Cove Campgrounds, some of which are open throughout the year. Park managers say they can work around the visitor use at those locations by either closing the campground loop that a restroom serves or by providing temporary portable toilets.

Contracts for a second phase of ARRA projects is slated to be awarded later this fall for projects that will be undertaken next spring. These projects include re-paving Clingmans Dome Road and the Cherokee Orchard/Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, as well as the Cades Cove Loop Road for which funding was already assured prior to passage of the ARRA.

The Park is also working with the Federal Highway Administration to develop a Request for Qualifications from eligible contractors to design and construct the 800 foot-long Bridge #2 on the Foothills Parkway Missing Link. They anticipate the award of a contract estimated to be in the $30 million range by December 2009.

“We are extremely excited about being able to get so much needed work done at one time.” FitzGerald said.

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