Friday, January 29, 2010

All major through roads closed in the Great Smoky Mountains national park

Within an hour, every single major road in the Great Smoky Mountains national park is closed now to the winter storm dumping snow and freezing rain on the Smokies.

There are a few vehicles stranded by Alum Cave Trailhead which have not been able to make it down the slick surface of Newfound Gap Road and the GSMNP has personnel and trucks on the way to assist them.

Presently the Foothills Parkway Spur connecting Gatlinburg Tennessee with Pigeon Forge Tennessee remains open at this time.

Current Road conditions and closures in
the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Newfound Gap Road US 441 Closes as winter storm hit Great Smoky Mountains national park.

First, it was Old State Road 284 from Big Creek to Cataloochee that closed due to winter storm conditions and now it is Newfound Gap Road US 441 between Cherokee North Carolina and Gatlinburg Tennessee. Snow is falling hard and sticking to the road surface below the Chimneys already.

As much as a foot or more is expected to fall in the higher elevation tonight with a little more snow on the way tomorrow, so expect roadways in the Great Smoky Mountains national park for what could be days.

Heavy snow and previously weakened limbs from our last few storms have prompted power and phone companies in the area are expecting the worst with widespread scattered power and phone outages predicted all throughout the North Carolina and Tennessee Smokies.

The next major road in the GSMNP to close due to this storm will be Little River Road and hopes are that the Pigeon Forge - Gatlinburg Spur can be kept open.

Other roads expected to close shortly will be the Foothills parkway East, Foothills Parkway West and the Gatlinburg Bypass between Newfound Gap Road and The Spur section of the Foothills parkway.

Current Road conditions and closures in
the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Rockslide Near Great Smoky Mountains National Park Keeps Part of Spur Closed a Month or More

This Monday a significant rockslide fell onto the southbound lanes of the Spur section of the Foothills Parkway (US 441) a few hundred yards south of traffic light 10 in Pigeon Forge on the way to Gatlinburg Tennessee and experts now predict that the cleanup and stabilization of the slope could potentially take at least a month.

The rockslide between Gatlinburg and Pigeon thankfully did not cause any injuries and occurred in the off-season so the traffic affected by the detour around the rockslide is minimal right now, but will affect the tourism peak that occurs on and around Valentines Day.

landslide on Spur Section of Foothills Parkway by city of Pigeon Forge

Yesterday morning the Tennessee Department of Transportation (TDOT) had geotechnical engineers inspect the rockslide and their determination is that the wall or rock, earth and vegetation is still very unstable and before the roadway can be reopened to traffic, significant stabilization effort is required.

Presently TDOT will need to obtain an emergency contract to stabilize this section of the mountainside along the Spur and once the work is started will be able to offer a more accurate time in which this project can be completed.

TDOT truck near Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge rockslide

Since the rockslide cleanup and stabilization along the spur will take so long, representatives from the Great Smoky Mountains national park and TDOT are working together to improve the traffic flow on the 1 mile detour where northbound traffic is reduced to 1 lane and southbound traffic uses 1 lane flowing south.

According to Great Smoky Mountains National Park Facility Management Chief Alan Sumeriski stated, "We are working with TDOT to improve the configuration of temporary traffic barriers and the signage to help keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible and to maximize public safety."

He went on to say "We will also be adding numerous signs in the detour area to guide residents and visitors to each of the side roads that are accessed off the Spur."

Though park rangers patrol the entire length of the Spur, the State of Tennessee owns the portion where the rockslide took place, so TDOT has sole responsibility for repairs of the slide itself.

While being restriped today there will be traffic delays along the Spur.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Rock Slide closes portion of the Foothills Parkway Spur between Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

A large rock slide has closed the southbound lanes of the Gatlinburg-Pigeon Forge Spur portion of the Foothills Parkway by the Great Smoky Mountains national park forcing southbound traffic coming from Pigeon Forge to be detoured to the northbound lane that is now become 2-way traffic.

The southbound traffic on the Spur will continue a short distance to the King Branch bridge and at that point will cross over to the south lanes of the Spur. Traffic headed north on the Spur will be funneled to 1 lane at the King Branch exchange.

Temporary electronic variable message signs warn drivers of the detour and even more traffic cones are being put in place right now by the state of Tennessee to help better separate the lanes and assist with the traffic flow.

It is unclear at this time how long this detour will stay in place before the debris from the landslide can be removed and the roadway is declares to be safe again for motorists. Since the rock slide is on the City of Pigeon Forge owned portion of the Spur the city of Pigeon Forge is responsible for the slide clean up.

Local motorists who know the back roads may do best to avoid the area altogether.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Fatal accident closes Newfound Gap Road (US 441) in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

A fatal combination of high winds and saturated ground claimed the life of one of the passengers in a car on Newfound Gap Road near the Chimneys Picnic area heading toward Gatlinburg. The victim Tonya Renee Eichler, 39 from Sevierville, Tennessee was killed when large trees fell on top of the car while it was being driven by Jody Simonds also from of Sevierville.

High winds especially in the upper elevations have been buffeting the park since last night and the GSM national parks electronic variable message signs warned drivers of the high wind danger prior to the fatal accident on Newfound Gap Road.

The accident was caused when large trees fell directly onto the front passenger side of the 2003 Nissan Altima crushing and trapping Tonya Renee Eichler. The driver and his daughter who was in the back seat were able exit the car by climbing out of the windows.

National Park Rangers and a Gatlinburg Rescue crew responded quickly to the scene of the accident on the Tennessee side of the Great Smoky Mountains national park where they found the deceased driver inside the smashed vehicle with downed trees blocking the road.

Fatal accident closes Newfound Gap Road (US 441) in the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

A passing motorist with a chain saw already had begun cutting the trees in an attempt to free Tonya Renee Eichler who was pronounced dead at the scene. The jaws-of-life were later used to extricate her from the crushed car.

Park rangers closed Newfound Gap Road and rerouted all existing southbound traffic on US 441 back down the mountain to Gatlinburg and the northbound traffic back to Cherokee.

The Simonds’ were transported by Gatlinburg ambulance to The University of Tennessee Medical Center where they were treated and released and Tonya Renee Eichler body was transported to Ft. Sanders Sevier Medical Center.

Newfound Gap Road was closed and crews started the difficult task of cleanup and had to check the balance of the roadway at daylight for any other potential hazards before reopening it back up.

Because of the high winds, various roadways have been closed as downed trees, limbs, power lines, and vehicular accidents were cleaned up in and around the Great Smoky Mountains national park.

In the Cades Cove section of the GSMNP, Forge Creek Road and Sparks Lane were also closed due to storm debris in the roadway.

Story updated with corrections 1/25/10 1:15 pm

Dangerous High Winds Blast the Tennessee Smokies and Great Smoky Mountains national park

Wind gusts exceeding 60 mph are pounding the Smoky Mountains on the Tennessee side knocking down numerous trees along with power and telephone lines causing minor power and phone interruptions throughout the region.

As if the December storms were not enough, trees and large limbs started falling last night at around 9 pm when the winds started and the windy conditions are expected to last until late this afternoon.

Driver with large profile vehicles such as trucks, vans and campers as well as motorcyclists should use extreme caution as the sustained wilds are very low and the gust come with little or no warning.

The Great Smoky Mountains national park is diligently working to removed downed trees and limbs. Fortunately, the only road closed in the GSM national park right now is the Cades Cove Loop Road, which has crews working on it right now.

While the high winds and extreme gusts continue hikers and campers are urged to stay out of the GSMNP for their own safety.