The Road to Nowhere
Tuesday December 15th 2020

On the south side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park you'll find the town of Bryson City, North Carolina. It's a popular vacation spot with a vibrant town center, home to the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and the origin of "The Road to Nowhere".

 

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There is a road on the north side of town which winds up into the mountains and becomes part of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This road is known as the "Road to Nowhere". It starts as Everett Street, becomes Fontana Road once it exits town, and finally is officially named E. Lakeview Drive once it crosses the park border. It's a very nice road, winding and twisting through the mountains near the edge of Fontana Lake similar in experience to riding the lower sections of the Blue Ridge Parkway. 5.8 miles into the park the road suddenly ends at a set of gates with a small parking area. Just beyond it continues into a lovely tunnel. Emerging from the tunnel the road becomes a footpath leading up into the woods.

 

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It was not supposed to be this way, the road was supposed to go on for 30 miles looping around the north shore of Fontana Lake. Instead, it leads - nowhere. Here is the story of what happened -

 

Riding the Road to Nowhere Tunnel
Riding the Road to Nowhere Tunnel

 

In the 1930's and 1940's the war effort precipitated the construction of the Fontana Dam, the tallest in the eastern north America, to generate power for aluminum production in Alcoa, Tennessee as well as the secret Manhattan Project in Oak Ridge which developed the atom bomb. The lake which would form behind the dam would submerge several communities as well as Old US 288, the road which led through them. Swain County, North Carolina agreed to cede hundreds of acres of private land to the government with the promise a new road would be constructed to provide access to what remained above water including several family cemeteries.

 

Approaching the Road to Nowhere Tunnel
Approaching the Road to Nowhere Tunnel

 

Road construction began and the current pathway was cut through the mountains for several miles. Reaching an insurmountable ridge, a 1200 foot long tunnel was dug, then work came to an abrupt halt. Sources say it was because of environmental concerns, I'd suspect there were also some political maneuverings, but it was the last work done on the new road and it was abandoned. A contentious litigation ensued for many years as Swain County demanded compensation when the government failed to finish the road. The locals came to call it the Road to Nowhere, an angry outcry for justice simmered on and on. It was finally resolved in 2010 when the Federal government agreed to pay Swain County $52 million dollars in restitution. The final payment was made in 2018. Additionally, the park service ferries families across the lake periodically for visits to the cemeteries and reunions.

 

the Road to Nowhere Tunnel
the Road to Nowhere Tunnel

 

The road is now one of the attractions in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, popular as a scenic drive, the source of a slew of hiking trails, and for the curious who just want to see and walkthrough the impressive tunnel. It's a pleasant ride, there are a few improved overlooks along the way, something to enjoy on your motorcycle travels.

 

Here is some video of it we shot on a recent visit -

 

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