Park official consideration for safety reasons
Managers at Great Smoky Mountains National Park have issued an Environmental Assessment (EA), which describes the possible resource and visitor impacts of a proposed new bridge in the Park near Cherokee, NC.
The new steel bridge would replace an existing low-water crossing that currently carries Balsam Mountain Road across Straight Fork.
Park officials are considering installation of a bridge primarily for safety reasons. Currently motorists leaving Balsam Mountain enroute to Cherokee have no way of knowing if the water level at the Straight Fork crossing is too high to safely negotiate until they have driven 13 miles down a narrow one-way road. If they arrive at the crossing and the level looks high they have to make a choice between trying to cross anyway or risk returning 13 miles against possible on-coming traffic.
On many occasions Rangers close the road at the Balsam Mountain end when high water threatens. A bridge at Straight Fork would also reduce the number of closures.
Under requirements of the National Environmental Policy Act, the Park and the Federal Highway Administration have released an EA that states the potential impacts of the proposed bridge on such Park resources as water quality, aquatic and terrestrial wildlife, vegetation and archeological resources. The EA also weighs aesthetics and visitor use and enjoyment.
If the project is approved nearly all of the construction can be scheduled to avoid complete closures of the road.
The EA is available for public review at the Park Headquarters in Gatlinburg as well as at the Oconaluftee Visitor Center near Cherokee. The document is posted for review and comment on-line at: www.nps.gov/grsm/pphtml/documents.html. Comments may be submitted by mail to: Superintendent, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 ParkHeadquarters Road, Gatlinburg, TN 37738 or electronically at:GRSM_Superintendent @nps.gov. Comments should be submitted by January 31, 2005.