Originally envisioned as a 71-mile scenic route paralleling the Tennessee boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Foothills Parkway is the oldest unfinished highway project in Tennessee. The origins of the parkway stemmed from the federal government's decision not to build the Blue Ridge Parkway through any part of Tennessee. Disappointed by this decision, Frank Maloney, vice-president of the Great Smoky Mountains Conservation Association, conceived the idea of the Foothills Parkway as a way to spur economic growth and link recreational areas on the Tennessee side of the national park.
After years of lobbying, Congress in 1944 passed an act that enabled the parkway project to proceed. The State of Tennessee received the authority to purchase rights of way, and the federal government promised to provide funds for construction and maintenance of the parkway. The Tennessee Highway Department (later the Tennessee Department of Transportation) purchased 8,835 acres in Cocke, Sevier, and Blount Counties in the 1950s, but construction did not begin until 1960.
Due primarily to a shortage of federal funds, the construction of the Foothills Parkway proceeded very slowly. Sections of the parkway opened as early as 1965, but in 1978, nearly thirty-five years after the passage of the initial enabling act, less than one-third of the parkway had been completed. Although earth slides and soaring costs continued to plague the project, Representative James Quillen provided a strong legislative push for completion of the parkway, and by late 1996, only 1.6 miles remained unfinished. The parkway now provides millions of tourists with breathtaking vistas of the mountains.
George Frye, "Foothills Parkway to Give Better Views to Smoky Park," Tennessee Conservationist (June 1966).
Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010