The Great Smoky Mountains' 'Missing Link' – Townsend, Tennessee - Atlas Obscura

The Great Smoky Mountains' 'Missing Link'

In one of America’s oldest mountain ranges, a long-awaited section of a scenic highway is now open to the public.  


Fifty-two years after construction first began, the last section of the Foothills Parkway at Great Smoky Mountains National Park was finally completed. Commonly referred to as the “Missing Link,” the 1.65-mile section of the highway now connects both pedestrians and drivers between Walland and Wears Valley in Tennessee.

With breathtaking views of America’s cherished Smoky Mountains, the Foothills Parkway now “consists of two finished sections at either end of the 72-mile corridor,” states the National Park Service (NPS). “The western section now extends 33 continuous miles from Chilhowee to Wears Valley, offering a new recreational experience for motorists and cyclists.” The eastern section of the parkway, which offers views of Mt. Cammerer, was finished in 1968.  Cost for the highway totaled $178 million.

According to the NPS website, the Foothills Parkway was authorized by Congress as a scenic parkway in 1944 and divided into 8 sections. However, it remained one of the only parkways in the US (and the oldest) to remain unfinished. The NPS cited “challenging terrain and funding starts and stops” to the highway’s previously incomplete status. Now, the public can finally enjoy new additions to the parkway, including access to 9 bridges.

The federally-owned Great Smoky Mountains Park contains 800-square-miles of wilderness and an impressive array of wildlife, including black bears, hundreds of species of birds, and elk. In Tennessee, visitors are also able to take a gander at 80 preserved log cabins and historic sites left over from Scotch-Irish immigrants in the early 19th century. It is America’s most visited national park with over 9 million visitors every year.

“We are grateful to the visionaries in the 1930s who conceived the idea of a parkway and to the countless people who have tirelessly worked since then to complete this spectacular section,” said Superintendent Cassius Cash in a release issued on October 25, 2018. “We can’t wait for people to experience the unparalleled views offered along this new Smokies destination,” he continued.

Know Before You Go

The Foothills Parkway is open year-round, weather permitting. A timeline of the Parkway’s history can be found here.

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