One of the Great Smoky Mountains national parks best kept secret - the abandoned part of the Foothills Parkway in Wears Valley will be closed to hikers, bikers and horseback riders starting this Monday September 22nd so that construction which started in the 1970s can commence.
Though not a conventional hiking trail, this was one of the best places to hike in land area under the management of the national park service in the Smokies. This 5 mile asphalt road was virtual unused and provided excellent access without the hassle of traffic for handicapped persons, personals walking their dogs, riding bikes, riding horses or just taking in some of the most stunning overlooks accessible by walking on pavement.
After the first 15 minutes of walking into the abandoned area of the Foothills Parkway, traffic noise from Wears Valley Road (321) disappears and the sound of birds and rustling leaves in the wind is all that you can hear as you walk the 5 miles up the gentle incline.
Both sides of this section of the Foothills Parkway are lined by tall trees except for when you cross the bridges offering hikers spectacular views looking out into Wears Valley below and out to the towering mountain range in the Great Smoky mountains national park in the distance.
Well all good things must come to an end. Presently this part of the Foothills Parkway was supposed to run from Wears Valley to Walland and construction which started in the 70s had to stop as funding ran out.
In the mid 1980s funding was available so the Foothills Parkway construction began again, this time there was one project from Wears Valley west toward Walland and the other from Walland east to Wears Valley.
Less than 10 years later both projects had to be put on hold leaving a 1.6 mile "Missing Link" section uncompleted because of erosion problems and numerous slides.
Construction on the Foothills Parkway began again 1998 and by 2008 3 bridges spanning a total of 1,675 feet were completed on the Walland end of the "Missing Link".
Over the next 8 months the Hinkle Construction Corporation Inc. of Lexington Kentucky has been awarded a $3,783,268 contract with the Federal Highway Administration to construct 1,200 feet of new roadway which will run westward from the end of the partly-finished Parkway segment off US 321 in Wears Valley.
The Foothills Parkway construction contract calls for repairing damage to an overpass that carries the partly-completed Parkway over Happy Valley Road and the construction of a reinforced earth section of fill across a shallow ravine.
Officials from the Federal Highway Administration and the Great Smoky Mountains national park are expecting to be able to award a contract to construct another 1,800 feet of Parkway to extend east from the 3 new bridges on the Walland end of the "Missing Link" sometime in the fall of 2009.
Even though this section of the Foothills parkway is closed to recreational use, the other 9 mile-long section of partly finished Foothills Parkway from US 321 in Walland to the "Missing Link" will remain open.