Smokies to get $44 million in road, park improvements

Next spring and early summer, managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park expect to make over $44 million worth of major improvements to 56 miles of Park roads, a campground and a popular trailhead parking area.

Funding for the projects has become available from a combination of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act along with previously-authorized Federal Lands Highway Program funds.

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act offers us the opportunity to substantially improve our infrastructure,” said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson. “When the projects are finished, our road system will be in the best shape it has been in for decades, and our visitors will find their travel safer as well as more pleasurable.

“With the number of projects going on at the same time, there will be some impact on traffic while the work is underway. We have worked very hard to minimize this inconvenience through scheduling as much work as possible between February and Memorial Day.”

The following Park roadways will be re-surfaced and, in some cases rebuilt using $24.6 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) during the target dates indicated:

• Foothills Parkway - West in Blount County - May 10 to June 30, road will be subject to single lane closures.

• Cades Cove Loop Road - March 1 to May 21. Road closed to all public use, however the campground, picnic area, store and horse stables will be open as normal.

• Clingmans Dome Road - From Feb. 15 to May 28, the road will be closed to all traffic, but intermittent single-lane closures will continue until June 18.

• Roaring Fork/Cherokee Orchard Rd. - Feb. 1 to May 28, The one-way Roaring Fork Road will be closed completely, while the two-way portion of Cherokee Orchard Road will be subject to managed single lane closures.

• Cosby Campground Roads - Campground was closed Sept. 8 and will reopen as regularly scheduled in March.

In addition to the ARRA-funded work, the following projects will be undertaken using $19.4 million from the Federal Lands Highway Program:

• The Gatlinburg Bypass and Newfound Gap Road from the Gatlinburg boundary to the Sugarlands Visitor Center - April 1 to May 28. The Bypass will be closed for three weeks in late March/early April, but Newfound Gap Road will be subject to managed lane closures

• Newfound Gap Road from Collins Creek Picnic Area to Cherokee, N.C. Work began in March 2009 and will continue through November 2010. From now through June 15, the road is subject to weekday lane closures (no work allowed during October or during the Thanksgiving or Christmas holiday periods) In summer 2010 lane closures will be limited to nighttime.

• The Sinks Parking Area and Meigs Creek Trailhead - previously was scheduled to be closed from Oct. 1 through May 25, but it is still in open since discussions were ongoing about design.

“We expect that the area will close sometime in November,” Park spokesman Bob Miller said. “There is a lot more to this job than repaving a 20-car parking lot. We expect to expand the parking area to increase capacity and improve traffic flow and safety as well as construct a stone plaza that will provide an easy, safe, accessible viewing area to see the waterfalls.”

In addition to the work already funded, the Park has ARRA planning money to develop plans and contract documents to accomplish four more projects should funding become available, Ditmanson said.

“These projects are repaving the Foothills Parkway East, the Heintooga Ridge Road and the Smokemont Campground and to formalize day use and hiker parking at the Jakes Creek and Little River Trailheads in Elkmont.”

A calendar showing all of these Smokies projects and including updated dates is available at the Park’s website: www.nps.gov/grsm “Planning Your Visit”. Complete information on American Recovery and Reinvestment Act activities in the U.S. Department of Interior is available at: www.interior.gov/recovery/.

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