About 7.5 miles from Owl’s Hoot Chalet and Hideaway on the Creek lies a beautiful stretch of highway called Foothills Parkway. The long-awaited extension of the Foothills Parkway between Walland and Wears Valley, Tennessee, opened on November 10, 2018, a mere 74 years since it was authorized by Congress in 1944. After various failed construction attempts and funding issues since the 1980s, the 1.65-mile stretch of road called the “missing link” was finally completed in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
It was worth the wait! The spectacular views of Townsend, Wears Valley, and the Great Smoky Mountains are unobstructed by signs and guardrails. On a clear day, visitors can see for many miles, as shown in the photos taken by Smokies Cabins owners Myra Southern and Rob Wright on October 27, 2019, while auto-touring with Rob’s father Paul Wright, who was visiting from Chicago. The iconic fall colors are not yet peaking, but some trees are turning and showing off their yellow and reds, against the Smokies’ evergreens. Yes, the colors are late this year.
According to The Daily Times, innovative construction techniques enabled this latest mountainside footprint of the Foothills Parkway to not extend beyond 10 feet of the roadway itself. Designers were cognizant of the need to be respectful of park topography and appreciative of wildlife; the design allows migrating animals to travel under the bridges, according to officials overseeing the “missing link” project.
Construction of the 16-mile segment between Walland in Blount County and Wears Valley in Sevier County began in 1966. While most of the roadway was completed by 1989, the 1.65-mile gap was left unfinished when the project was halted due to slope failure and erosion during construction. The new extension closes that gap with a series of nine bridges. Drivers can now travel 33 miles of the Foothills Parkway continuously (the 17-mile stretch between Chilhowee Lake and Walland was completed in 1968).
An added bonus is that, in keeping with its start near the Peaceful Side of the Smokies, the parkway is less crowded than other popular auto tour destinations and vistas, such as Newfound Gap on the Tennessee/North Carolina border.
Have you traveled the new extension? What was your impression of it?