GREAT SMOKY MOUNTAINS NATIONAL PARK, Tenn. (WATE) — Rain or shine, Parson Branch Road in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park will reopen to visitors on Thursday. The beloved backroad out of Cades Cove has been closed for safety reasons since 2016, when thousands of damaged Eastern hemlock trees were discovered.
Those attending Thursday’s ceremony were the first to drive on the eight-mile long gravel road since it closed. If you go, it’s important to note that motorhomes, buses and vans longer than 25 feet as well as passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited on the one-way road.
Former Cades Cove resident Larry Sparks attended the ceremony. The park service said Sparks’ great-great-grandfather, Russell Gregory, was assigned to oversee the construction of Parson Branch Road in 1838.
Park officials said they wanted to hold the ceremony to thank crews for their hard work and donors for their financial support. Friends of the Smokies provided $100,000 in funds, matching $50,000 in federal funds, to support the removal of the dead trees and make needed repairs to the road itself.
“Crews worked diligently to ensure visitors would have the opportunity to enjoy this unique driving experience in time for Memorial Day weekend and the start of the 2022 summer season in the Smokies!,” park officials said.
Others attending the ribbon-cutting include Deputy Park Superintendent Alan Sumeriski; Friends of the Smokies CEO Tim Chandler; Friends of the Smokies Board Chair Sharon Pryse; representatives from the work crews, and special donors who contributed funds to repair and reopen the road.
IF YOU GO
- When: The one-way road can be accessed whenever Cades Cove is open. Travel time from the entrance to the event is estimated to be 33 minutes.
- Where: Parson Branch Road entrance. It is about half a mile past the Cable Mill/Cades Cove Visitor Center
- Good to Know: The road is one-way and takes an hour and a half to complete, bringing drivers out onto Highway 129, along the western park boundary at the Tail of the Dragon. From Cades Cove to Walland, near Townsend, takes about an hour and a half, the park warned drivers.
High clearance vehicles are recommended for use on the road.