The election of Heath Shuler to Congress from North Carolina’s 11th District appears to doom efforts to build a road along the north shore of Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is very good news.
When Fontana Lake was created in 1943, residents of Swain County, North Carolina could no longer drive to family cemeteries now inside the National Park. They were told that a road would be built, but World War II intervened, and nothing was done until 1970, when a seven-mile stretch was paved. The families continued to press for the promise to be kept. In the meantime, they have been transported to the cemeteries by boat.
Wilderness advocates, however argued that the 34-mile road would cost hundreds of millions of dollars, be an ecological disaster for Fontana Lake, and spoil a pristine forest. (See link below to the Environmental Impact Statement for the road.) Swain County was offered $52 million in place of the road, but over the years 11th District Republican Congressman Charles Taylor and then Senator Jesse Helms persisted in seeking funding for the road.
Shuler, a former quarterback at the University of Tennessee, has a far more enlightened view of wilderness, and says he favors the $52 million settlement. The News Sentinel quotes a Swain County official who points out that the settlement, if properly invested, would yield $2.6 million every year in perpetuity for the county.
Let’s hope that Rep. Shuler can make this settlement happen. This is the best outcome for the Park, the lake, and the residents of Swain County.