Graves in the parkWritten by Becky Johnson
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When Fontana Lake was constructed during WWII, some communities were submerged by the rising lake while others were merely rendered inaccessible.
The only road in and out of a 44,000 acre area where about 2,000 people lived got flooded, effectively cutting them off. So the area was evacuated and made part of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Those who were evacuated not only left behind homes and farms, but family cemeteries.
Many elected to have their loved ones remain where they were rather than dug up and relocated. The next of kin for each grave had to sign a contract with the Tennessee Valley Authority stating their preference: to leave the grave or move it.
Those who elected to leave the grave where it was were warned upfront that visitation to the cemeteries wasn’t going to be easy.
“It will be necessary to walk a considerable distance until a road is constructed in the vicinity of the cemetery, which is proposed to be completed after the war has ended,” the TVA contract stated.
Although families were given fair warning access would be difficult, they were also given hope that a road into the area would be built back one day. Those with family members buried on the North Shore have hung on to that hope, but it has been 65 years now and no road is in sight.
Road or cash
When Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson came to the Swain commissioners meeting last week, road supporters didn’t pass up the chance to demand the long-promised road. County Commissioner David Monteith, a spokesperson for the pro-road group, suggested tapping the public works stimulus package being debated in Congress for money to build the North Shore Road.
But Ditmanson leveled with the audience.
“The road will never be built,” he said.
A cash settlement in lieu of the road is now the county’s best hope of being compensated for the broken promise to build the road. But negotiations over the amount of the settlement appear to be stalled.
Supporters of a cash settlement floated the figure of $52 million, a long-standing amount used repeatedly over the past decade when discussing a cash settlement. It is based on the value of the old road through the area that was flooded when the lake was created, adjusted for interest and inflation.
The Park Service itself adopted the figure, but now that rubber is meeting the road it appears a figure cannot be agreed on. Swain County leaders have said they will not settle for anything less.