After our trip on the Great Smoky Mountains Railroad I had one last adventure I wanted to undertake. I had read about the “Road to Nowhere” which starts in Bryson City, and I wanted to find it. Turns out that it was easier to find than I thought, so we were able to explore it.
First a bit of history…
In 1943 the Tennessee Valley Authority began work on the Fontana Dam. 1,300 families were displaced by inundation of the the rising Little Tennessee River. In part to appease the displaced families, the TVA promised to build the 32 mile long North Shore Road so that the families had access to the 28 cemeteries on the north side of the lake.
By 1969 only six miles of the North Shore Road had been completed, including a bridge over Nolan Creek and a tunnel through what’s now known as Tunnel Ridge. An environmental study indicated major damage to the fragile Appalachian cove ecosystem if construction continued, so it was halted – completely. Pavement ends just on the other side of the bridge.
Families were provided access to the cemeteries by boat across the lake. The North Shore Cemetery Association holds “Decoration Days” each fall, where families hold reunions and clean up and maintain the cemeteries.
The controversy continues regarding the road. In 2000 Congressman Charles Taylor tried to obtain $16 million to complete the road. In 2010, Congressman Heath Shuler was able to strike a deal with Swain County for $52 million to settle all outstanding claims. This also meant that all construction on the road would cease.
But back to the present…
The main road through Bryson City, past the GSMR depot is Everett Street. Continue on this road north out of town and past the Swain County High School. About a mile out of town the road crosses into the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and begins its ascent along the shore.
The road is still maintained by the National Park Service, and is in excellent condition. It’s a beautiful drive, with views out over Lake Fontana.
There is only one overlook along the road, and a couple of parking areas at trailheads. Not far past the curving bridge over Nolan Creek the road is blocked, with a parking area to the side. Just beyond that is the tunnel.
Laura decided to stay at in the car and read, but I wanted to explore the tunnel. The tunnel is about a quarter of a mile long – which is pretty long if you’re taking a stroll. The walls of the tunnel are covered in graffiti.
It reminded me of Stumphouse Tunnel, but much dryer, and not as dark. Even so, I was regretting that I hadn’t brought a flashlight.
On the other side of the tunnel the pavement continued for a couple of hundred feet, then just ended. A well-developed trail continued beyond the pavement.
The area is beautiful, if not a little sad. I can imagine it being really spooky up here at night. I returned to the car, and Laura and I enjoyed a nice ride back down the mountain, then on toward home.
One of these days I would like to get up here for the Decoration Day. Topo maps of the area indicate where the cemeteries are. I’m sure it would be a moving experience.