Sierra Club Praises Decision to Protect Wild Heart of the Great Smoky Mountains

Sierra Club today celebrates the National Park Service’s announcement that it has identified a monetary settlement for Swain County as the Preferred Alternative to the proposed North Shore Road, almost certainly bringing to a close the decades-old dispute. A formal Park Service decision will follow later this year.

“We are elated that the largest unroaded tract of mountain land in the East will be protected,” said Ted Snyder, former national President of the Sierra Club and 35 year Smokies activist. “This has been the longest fought conservation battle over protection of the nation’s most popular national park.” Mr. Snyder has fought the proposed road since the 1960’s and was among the first to propose the cash settlement.

Sierra Club volunteers have campaigned for decades against the road proposal, and more recently in favor of the cash settlement, which would award Swain County fair compensation. The Club urged citizens to submit comments during the public comment period and contributed significantly to the over 76,000 received by the NPS.

The controversy over the 38 mile road to be constructed through the heart of the GSMNP began in 1943 with a promise to replace NC 288, which was flooded to build Tennessee Valley Authority’s Fontana Dam. Seven miles were completed in the1960’s but then abandoned because of environmental and engineering problems, leading to the nickname “the road to nowhere.” In 2000, then US Representative Charles Taylor revived the project with a $16 million appropriation.

Rep. Heath Shuler’s victory last fall over Rep. Taylor for Western NC’s 11th Congressional seat dramatically changed the dynamics surrounding the project. Mr. Shuler, who is from Swain County and an opponent of the project, lead a bi-partisan effort in March of this year calling on Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne to support the cash settlement.

“Why have we been fighting tooth and claw for so many years?" Ted Snyder asks. “It's because we are committed to resisting the heart-breaking, wanton destruction of a world-class natural environment. Now, after more than three decades, we have a solution that protects this vast mountain forest, closed canopy, deep folds and finger ridges, smoothed by a velvet forest, for North Carolinians and the nation.”

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