The whole reason for getting into paddling, the Mississippi River, and much of my outreach and teaching interest comes as a result my thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail from Maine to Georgia in 2000. I made a deal with myself to do something cool every five years when I finished and here we are. I still keep up with Appalachian Trail news and hikers, and started my PhD intent on working on trails and greenway issues. Here's some good news concerning the Great Smoky Mountain National Park (GSMNP) and the "Road to Nowhere."

When the GSMNP was established, it displaced hundreds of people. The government provided settlements and/or bought the land via a number of mechanisms, sometimes with competing or confusing results. The "Road to Nowhere" was an example of one of the more confusing issues.

To make a long story short, when the GSMNP and Fontana Dam were built, most of the private land in Swain county, NC, was transferred to federal control,with Fontana Lake putting the main highway (Highway 288) under water. This resulted in effectively cutting off 28 cemeteries from access other than some off-road trails. As part of a Byzantine set of agreements in 1944 between Swain county, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA), and the National Park Service (NPS), the TVA would transfer over 40,000 acres to the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, and the NPS would build a 37 mile "North Shore Road" along Fontana Lake to replace Highway 288 (contingent on congressional appropriations.)

Fast forward 60 years.

Eight miles of the road have been built. Communities have changed leadership numerous times, environmental impact statements say the road would cause tremendous damage, administrations have changed multiple times, the Wilderness Act, National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Endangered Species Act, Historic Preservation Act, and clean air and water acts were passed, and the current price tag to finish the road was a half-billion dollars and climbing. Most of the residents of the area did not want the road, preferring a lump cash settlement, multiple lawsuits were in the court system over expected environmental damage from exposing acidic rock that would leach heavy metals int the watershed if disturbed, and everything politically is a general mess with NC Congressman Charles Taylor (R) leading the charge to go through with the road.

Taylor snuck in a $16 million dollar rider to an appropriations bill in 2000 "forcing the Park Service to take another look at the project. In getting the measure passed, Taylor inserted language into the bill that the funds were “for the construction of, and improvements to, North Shore Road in Swain County, North Carolina.” Neither the Park Service nor DOT had requested the funding, and no mention was made of the fact that the road would transect GSMNP."

Well, Taylor was defeated by local boy done good Heath Shuler (D) in the recent midterm elections. Shuler grew up 3 miles from GSMNP, and is committed to seeing the federal govenment's offer to settle with the county for $53 million dollars come through and effectively kill the "Road to Nowhere." At the time of the elections, Taylor was the chair of the House committee that oversaw national parks appropriations, and one of a small minority that still wanted to see the road built, even at the expense of environmental damage, a tremedous increase in vehicle traffic through Bryson City, and damage to the scenic beauty of the GSMNP.

His ouster in 2006 represents a possible conclusion to the lawsuits and confusion wrought by the "Road to Nowhere." I'm taking a wait and see approach to this, but things are looking better than they were two weeks ago before the elections.