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Photo of the Foothills Parkway in Great Smoky Mountains National Park with a scenic view of mountains and fall colors.

Foothills Parkway Section 8D

Great Smoky Mountains National Park » Foothills Parkway Section 8D » Document List

The National Park Service (NPS), in cooperation with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), is preparing an Environmental Assessment (EA) for proposed construction of Foothills Parkway Section 8D. This proposed new section would extend the Foothills Parkway within the existing NPS-managed corridor for 9 miles from Wears Valley to the Spur near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.

The park obtained initial public input on the proposed Foothills Parkway Section 8D project, as well as a second project in the same area (Metcalf Bottoms Access Improvements), during a public comment period and public meeting in October 2021. This related project included a proposed connector road from Section 8D to the Metcalf Bottoms Picnic Area that has since been dismissed from consideration.

Background

The concept of a parkway in Tennessee near Great Smoky Mountains National was conceived in the 1930s. Similar to the creation of the park itself, the NPS worked closely with Tennessee officials and park supporters to develop concepts for a scenic parkway that would provide recreational opportunities for visitors, support tourism, and improve the transportation network inside and outside the park. These efforts were emblematic of the National Park Service's growing commitment to regional recreation planning, particularly in the East.

The necessary legislation to establish the Foothills Parkway was introduced in Congress in 1940 and signed into law in 1944. It authorized the Secretary of the Interior to accept donations of land from the state of Tennessee as an addition to the park for the construction of a scenic parkway generally paralleling and connecting with the park. In 1945, the Tennessee legislature authorized acquisition of the necessary right-of-way by donation, purchase, or condemnation. Two years later, the state legislature passed another bill that authorized the state to transfer the property to the United States prior to any construction of the parkway by the federal government. The laws also provided for the reconstruction of a section of U.S. 441 between Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, which is known as the Gatlinburg Spur. All lands comprising the 72-mile-long Foothills Parkway corridor from Interstate 40 to Chilhowee, including the Spur, have been conveyed to the United States and are part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Construction of the Foothills Parkway began in the early 1950s with the Gatlinburg Spur. Completed portions of Foothills Parkway now include the Spur and four other sections at either end of the 72-mile corridor. The western sections (8G, 8F, and 8E) extend 33 continuous miles from Chilhowee to Wears Valley and the eastern section (8A) extends 6 miles from Cosby to Interstate 40. Construction on the three middle sections (8B, 8C, and 8D) has not begun. The completed sections of the Foothill Parkway provide breathtaking views and recreational driving and bicycling experiences for more than 400,000 vehicles per year. The western sections of Foothills Parkway rank among the most popular bicycling routes on the Tennessee side of the park.

Most recently, 16 miles of the Foothills Parkway from Walland to Wears Valley (Sections F and E) opened to the public in November 2018. Construction of these sections started in 1966, but construction paused in 1989 to address steep terrain and geological conditions along a 1.6-mile segment of Section 8E ( known as the "missing link"). Construction resumed after redesigning this segment to include a series of nine bridges and completing an EA. The NPS and FHWA also initiated planning efforts for Sections 8D and 8B in the late 1980s and early 1990s. Following publication of a Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Section 8D in 1994, the NPS paused the environmental planning and compliance process for all future Foothills Parkway sections until Section 8E was completed. Park managers have reinitiated planning efforts for Section 8D now that Sections 8E and 8F are complete. The NPS completed an EA and issued a Finding of No Significant Impact for the Wears Valley Mountain Bike Trail System within the 8D corridor in May 2022. This EA included construction of the first mile of Foothills Parkway Section 8D to provide access to the proposed mountain bike trails. The current EA considers the remaining 9 miles of Section 8D.

Contact Information

Katie Liming 865-712-4928