The long-awaited completion of the Blount County section of the Foothills Parkway from Chilhowee Lake to Wears Valley opens new vistas for visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Political observers might wonder if it also marks the end of an era.
Did we just witnesses a relic when elected officials and journalists could routinely work in common cause to ensure the common good?
Recent events aside, we don’t think so. We don’t because we continue to believe in American democracy and the crucial role of journalism. There is evidence to dispute that. The midterm elections were laden with uncivil and untrue personal attacks perpetrated by phony politicians and fake journalists. The nation has survived worse.
We see the completion of the “Missing Link,” as an example of what can be done. In the minds of many, it had been buried years earlier. U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and a Maryville native, and U.S. Rep. John J. “Jimmy” Duncan Jr., R-Tenn., never accepted that. Their words and deeds, spoken and done without acrimony toward those who would not be persuaded, were crucial.
Longtime readers of The Daily Times know what’s coming next: There was no stronger or more relentless supporter of the Foothills Parkway than Dean Stone, editor of The Daily Times, who died in 2016. In this space in 2001, Stone reiterated his support for the project by reminding readers of its beginning.
“In the early 1920s, the East Tennessee individuals responsible for the eventual establishment of Great Smoky Mountains National Park conceived the idea of establishing a foothills parkway along the northwest boundary of the area being bought by donations from Tennessee and North Carolina residents to give to the nation for the national park.
“Even though there was not yet a road to the top of the mountains, they knew then, as we know now, there are no views of the higher elevations of the Smokies equal to those from the Foothills Parkway. Can you imagine their vision?”
Today we can see it. Stone garnered support by reminding readers of Blount County connections.
“With the first park headquarters located in downtown Maryville, and having gotten the park officially established as of June 15, 1934, Tennesseans turned their attention to the building of that parkway they had been discussing for more than 20 years.”
When human failure blocked progress, Stone pointed it out. When other federal priorities — the Vietnam War was one — froze parkway funding, presidential Chief of Staff Howard Baker Jr. and then Gov. Alexander worked out an arrangement to save the project by turning it over to the state.
As Alexander’s term wound down, a rift between employees of the state departments of Transportation and of Environment and Conservation resulted in lawsuits between the departments over following regulations. Stone nailed the cause.
“Transportation ignored many of the stringent environmental rules which resulted in some pollution of water sources. This pollution in the end led to the expenditure of another $1 million for a second Environmental Impact Study.
“The most harmful result was that apparently lax inspection during the state’s construction work allowed improper installation of metal straps in some of the high fills which eventually caused slides in Section 6-E at the Blount-Sevier county line and resulted in the halt of construction, leaving a 1.6-mile uncompleted ‘Missing Link.’”
Stone related the travails of two redesigns of the “Missing Link,” and continued to support a fix.
“It seems rather obvious to us that the Foothills Parkway makes even more sense today than it did when our forefathers conceived the idea. And likely it will be needed even worse in the years ahead. … The need is even greater now to provide a better circulation of traffic in and near the park, especially to offer options to crowded areas such as Cades Cove.
“Some may oppose completion for private reasons and some may seek to have the effort devoted to projects that would better serve their own personal interests but we think those concerned with the overall best interests of the park will continue to support completion of the full 72 miles of the parkway.”
“It is time the federal government began keeping its commitments such as that for the Foothills Parkway!” Stone concluded in an editorial.
Commitment to a cause for the common good. That’s missing in today’s broken government. The “Missing Link” is a 1.65-mile-long piece of evidence the break can be breached.