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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.”


It's $52 millions over 10 years. And Congress has to appropriate it each year.
So the pressure has to stay on. I wonder if that means that we have to
keep Rep. Heath Shuler in Congress for another 10 years.
He's fine, as far as I can tell, but will he stay another 10 years?

By the way, Shuler was born and raised in Bryson City.

Let's just hope for decent weather for Saturday.

Danny Bernstein

Fifty-Two MILLION taxpayer dollars to buy off a small group off. No wonder this country is $14 TRILLION in debt!

"Almost all parties were against it (the road)," so why do the taxpayers from across America have to buy off four parties at a cost of $52,000,000 dollars for a road nobody wants and will never get built? Must be US Taxpayer Funded Lottery for the group of four. Absurd my fellow Americans, absolutely absurd!

Just like the fed government and our legal system, pay ransom to Swaim county and three decendants at the tune of $13M per party for not installing easy drive thru access to very old graves. Seems like it would have been far less costly and easier access for the parties just to move the remains into a local cemetery nearby.

Chris and KR, I completely agree.

Wilson, funny you should mention that about moving remains. From my understanding the parties were given that option from the park service or TVA. Can someone confirm this?

And to me its just remains. The soul is long gone and graves are kind of a waist of space. I'll be cremated and spread in a National Park somewhere hopefully (with all the proper permits of course).

One more thing, if your looking to hike any of the lakeshore trail or anywhere on the North Shore it sounds like that free shuttle service is just dying to get taken advantage of.

I am not a descendant of the folks who had to leave the North Shore Road area. (You can tell that by my last name.)
But I want to clear up some misconceptions in the above remarks.

The conpensation was in the 1943 agreement. In 1943, our federal government agreed (in writing) that they were going to build a road
to replace the one that TVA flooded. So the time to complain was then - during WWII - not now.
The road was never built for environmental and cost reasons. So the federal government substituted a payment to the county who
suffered the financial loss - almost 70 years later. This is a poor region, not prone to organize and take anyone to court. (not quite true -
there was a court case brought by those who wanted the road but it was thrown out.)

And yes, if you're looking to get over Fontana Lake for free, take the free shuttle service. It's at specific times from
very obscure trailheads. But no one will stop you. Come on down and hike and see the land we saved.
Danny Bernstein

Danny Bernstein

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.


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.

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