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Wednesday, 02 December 2009 14:31

The Naturalist's Corner

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The omnibus stops here

Reliable, undisclosed anonymous sources tell this reporter that the Fiscal year 2010 Omnibus Bill expected to be signed in a couple of weeks will seal the deal on the North Shore Road to Nowhere. The bill will allegedly include a cash settlement for Swain County.

The deal was first thought to be sealed in 1943 when the Bryson City Times reported, “The National Park Service says that as soon as money is made available after the war it will build a modern highway along the shores of Fontana Lake connecting Bryson City with the TVA access highway at Fontana Dam, making it a through highway to Deal’s Gap 50 miles west of here. Anyone with the smallest amount of imagination can visualize what a road of this kind will mean to Bryson City ... When this highway is built by the Park Service, the developments inaugurated, and we feel confidently they will be soon after the war, then there is nothing that can keep Bryson City from becoming the tourist center of Eastern America ....”

However, imagination and visualization weren’t enough to loosen federal purse strings and the weeds grew through the streets of Proctor, Pilkey, Judson and other North Shore communities.

As the ire grew in Swain County, there were fits and starts of construction. In 1959, the state of North Carolina fulfilled its road-building obligation by constructing 2.67 miles of highway from Bryson city to the boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and there the road ended.

Now this would have been a good time for some high-powered marketing spin and Swain County could have had a Road to the Park. Instead, the road languished again, until the Park Service picked up its picks and shovels and from 1963 to 1971, constructed six more miles of road before running into the infamous anakeesta rock and declaring: that’s it, this road ain’t going nowhere, leaving us with the time-honored Road to Nowhere moniker. Not to mention a really cool tunnel.

After more fits, there was another start at construction back in 2000 when then Rep. Charles Taylor and then Sen. Jesse Helms appropriated $16 million for construction of the North Shore Road. Even though the $16 million was about $550 million short of the estimated cost of such a road, the appropriation spurred some Swain County residents to action.

The Citizens for the Economic Future of Swain County was created in 2001. Although totally lacking in acronym-imagination, the CEFSC did strike a chord with many Swain County residents and environmental groups with its proposal for a cash settlement in lieu of the improbable North Shore Road. Through some mathematical calisthenics the group came up with a settlement figure of $52 million.

When asked if the omnibus figure contained any fives or twos the reliable, anonymous source only smiled and said s/he was confident that settlement advocates would be “pleased” with the figure.

Stay tuned for a flurry of press releases.

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