Build the road, honor our sacrifice
Those who want the government to build the road it flooded when Fontana Lake was created say the issue boils down to one premise: a promise is a promise.
“If the government’s word’s not worth the paper it’s wrote on, I don’t know what kind of government we got,” said Robert Jones. “If I signed a contract with them and walked off and left it, where would I be at? I’m getting real fed up with it.”
For many who support the road, being able to visit their family cemeteries is a major grievance. The cemeteries where their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents are buried are impossible to reach without a trip across the lake in a boat. The National Park Service regularly transports families across the lake to visit the cemeteries, but reaching them is a hardship at best and impossible for some.
“Last time I visited the graveyard, some of us had trouble walking the quarter mile from the boat landing,” said Clay Cable. “These folks are being denied access. Complaints are going to be filed in case you don’t make the right decisions.”
Cable said the situation violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Families who were kicked off their land were told by government officials at the time that the flooded road would be rebuilt soon and they would be able to get back and forth to the cemeteries.
“To visit the graves of our loved ones now, we have hardship, and the elderly and handicapped and young ones just cannot make it,” said Helen Vance.
Many just wish to see the places where they grew up and where their family once lived.
“I want to be able to drive back to my homeplace just like you do yours,” said Shirley Hyde. “I have that right.”
Charlene Blankenship called assertions by environmentalists falsehoods and propaganda.
“They are right when they say it is a national treasure that belongs to all of America,” Blankenship said. “We should open it up for all. They are selfish and want to keep the area all to themselves.”
That theme was echoed by many speakers in favor of the road.
“Backcountry? Who has access to the backcountry?” asked Helen Vance. “We should have a Park all can access, not just the able-bodied people.”
Mike Kesselring said the locals’ connection with the land rivals that of the environmentalists who don’t want the road.
“All the folks that lived there were hiking there far before you were,” Kesselring said.
Several speakers cited the sacrifice made by families who lost their homes and land.
“I heard stories about this marvelous place all my life growing up,” said Aileen McCoy. “Six thousand people had to give up their homes, and today just a few people are able to use that part. It is a beautiful place, and everyone should be able to use it.”
North Shore Road advocates say building the road as promised is the least America can do given the sacrifice.
“We gave you the land for the dang park. Now just build us a little old road along the edge of it,” said Raleigh Grant.
Supporters of the road shot down claims that it would ruin the park or environment. They compared it to the Blue Ridge Parkway or the road through Cades Cove and questioned whether those roads are so awful.
A major benefit from the road would be jobs, according to an analysis conducted by the National Park Service. The analysis predicts the addition of 7,315 jobs during construction of the road.
“Using the federal study, how could any elected official or citizens for the economic future of Swain County support anything less?” asked David Monteith, a Swain County commissioner who supports the road.
While opponents claimed more gas stations, hotels and restaurants cropping up to serve tourists would ruin Bryson City, road supporters claim any economic development would help.
“To some of you this development is horrible; to others it means food on our table and clothes for our kids,” Linda Hogue said. “The entire region would benefit economically.”