A project more than 50 years in the making is now done, and will be open to the public on Saturday.
The piece of the Foothills Parkway known as the “Missing Link” is now completed. It offers breathtaking sights.
“This parkway offers unparalleled views of the highest peaks of the Smokies,” said park spokesperson Dana Soehn. “We have been waiting to open this section between Walland and Wears Valley for 52 years.”
The final bridge is finished, connecting two pieces of the Parkway to form 72 miles winding through the mountains.
“Many of the engineers have spent their whole careers on this project, so it’s going to be a remarkable feeling for them to not only see it open and have the public experience but also just to have been along this entire process,” Soehn said.
What took this two mile piece so long was crossing some of the steepest terrain in the region. Bridge 2 was the last of nine structures needed to fill it in.
“It feels great. It’s really special for me, for Federal Lands,” said Rich Pakhchanian, Eastern Federal Land Bridge Engineer. He spend his whole career working on the Foothills Parkway.
Middle school kids from around the area got a sneak peek and a lesson in its creation before it opens to the public.
“These are the holes where the strands go through and those strands are basically holding the entire bridge together,” Pakhchanian demonstrated with pictures.
The unique structure of the 790-foot bridge allows it to blend into the mountainside.
It is made of 80 sections, constructed elsewhere and pieced together like a puzzle up on the mountainside.
It rests on pillars the engineers call seismic pins that will hold the bridge in place and steady in the event of something like an earthquake.
The bridge is designed to hold strong for the next 100 years.
As the final touches go up on the Parkway everyone who has worked on it knows it is a piece of history.
“People are going to see the Appalachian Trail areas along Thunderhead Mountain at Spence Field and Rocky Top from a vantage point they’ve never experienced before,” Soehn said.
The National Park Service will hold a community day on Thursday where the public can walk the Missing Link and experience the series of bridges on foot before it is open to drivers and cyclists. That will begin at 9:00 a.m. Be aware you will be walking about at least two miles round trip along a 10 percent grade.
Then Friday the NPS will have a private dedication and ribbon cutting at 10:00 a.m.
The Missing Link will open to the public officially on Saturday.