Saturday, May 3, 2008

The Road That Never Happened

Blue Ridge Parkway, Craggy Tunnel

Today, the Blue Ridge Parkway meanders along Jackson County’s northeastern border. Forty years ago, a proposed extension of the Parkway almost sliced through the southern part of the county. Looking at this place now, you can only imagine how that road would have changed things.

In the 1950s, serious work began toward developing a southern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway. The new road was part of the Mission 66 plan devised by the National Park Service. Launched in 1956, Mission 66 was a ten-year initiative to improve facilities and to protect scenic and historic resources in the national parks. It set out to accomplish the seemingly incompatible goals of "widest possible use" and "maximum preservation.”

The year of 1966 passed without construction of the southern extension. Then in 1968 Congress authorized the Secretary of the Interior to accept donations of land for an extension running from the vicinity of Beech Gap, North Carolina, to the vicinity of Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park north of Atlanta and Marietta, Georgia.

No exact route for the extension had been determined. Presumably, it would have run almost entirely along the Nantahala National Forest as it passed through Jackson County, on its way toward rejoining the Eastern Continental Divide near Cashiers.

Beech Gap, elevation 5340, is at mile 423 of the Parkway, where it intersects with State Highway 215. And that’s also where the Parkway reaches its southernmost point.

An extension running south and west from Beech Gap would have been closer to the route proposed for the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway. Joseph Hyde Pratt, North Carolina’s State Geologist, began construction of that motorway in 1914, with the intention of connecting Tallulah Falls, GA to Marion, VA. Only a short portion of the Crest of the Blue Ridge Highway was completed at that time, and it was later incorporated into the Blue Ridge Parkway.

After Congress passed enabling legislation in the 1960s, it appeared the southern extension was close to becoming reality. In July 1970 the New York Times published a report from Waynesville, where Parkway superintendent Granville Liles expressed the hope that construction of the “Georgia extension” would begin in 1971.

For whatever reason, that’s about as far as the project went.

The concept, however, was never completely forgotten. Fast forward to April 1992. A resolution in the South Carolina General Assembly included this language:

Whereas, the National Park Service has studied the extension of three alternate routes of the parkway from Beech Gap to Norton in North Carolina; and
Whereas, one of these alternate routes passes near Whitewater Falls very close to the South Carolina state line…
Be it resolved by the House of Representatives, the Senate concurring:
That the General Assembly of South Carolina memorializes the President, the Congress of the United States, and the National Park Service of the United States Department of Interior to plan, authorize, and construct an extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway into the State of South Carolina so as to connect at some appropriate point with the South Carolina Cherokee Foothills Scenic Highway [SC Highway 11].

To the best of my knowledge, 16 years further along, any plans for the southern extension of the Blue Ridge Parkway are gathering dust on the shelf of some government office.

For Jackson County it was the road that never happened.

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