The view from the newly completed 16-mile section of Foothills Parkway is worth saving. So said the Foothills Land Conservancy to a group of interested parties at a Tuesday night meeting.

In an effort to preserve the natural beauty of the land that Foothills Parkway motorists see as they traverse the breathtaking section of new road extending from Walland to Wears Valley, the FLC is starting a conversation with landowners.

Bill Clabough, FLC’s executive director, opened the meeting at the Great Smoky Mountains Heritage Center in Townsend with words of enthusiasm and explanation. “We protect land on a volunteer basis, we don’t force anybody to protect land.”

Addressing a crowd of 30 to 40 attendees, Clabough talked about how his organization had been approached by Jeanie and Richard Hilten who want to preserve the view beyond the protected area 500 feet on either side of the parkway that is inside Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The goal is to conserve the scenery for the eyes, keeping it free of development that would take away from the view.

Along with Clabough and the Hiltens, others including FLC Communications and Development Director Elise Eustace, former Blue Ridge Parkway Superintendent Phil Francis and FLC board member Billy Minser rose to speak of the importance of making what they called the “viewshed” permanently beautiful.

How would this be achievable?

Richard Hilten explained it is a matter of a legal agreement with property owners willing to adhere to standards that would keep the land in line with an aesthetic vision.

What are those standards? That is not set in stone, though Francis spoke about how he had worked on a similar project in the Blue Ridge Mountains where such standards were carefully crafted and agreed upon by interested landowners.

Though most of the discussion was met with enthusiasm and applause, a few audience members raised concerns. “I wonder about trying to put a lot of rules on people,” said Joan Fitch, who owns land in Townsend. She didn’t want a set of restrictions and regulations to snowball into something uncontrollable.

“Ma’am, that is not what this meeting’s about,” said Clabough. “There might be some suggestions. ... I have a feeling that if it gets to that point, FLC will withdraw rapidly.”

Despite some questions and concerns, those present had little else to say. Clabough said the next step is to form a committee and get the word out, furthering the conversation.

But the meeting was the first step. At one point Clabough said to the smiling crowd, “This feels like church.”

No future meetings on the Foothills viewshed effort are set, but FLC leadership said there are hundreds, potentially even thousands of landowners to approach in the near future.

Andrew joined The Daily Times in 2019 and covers city government and breaking news.

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