Whenever the National Park Service has surveyed visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park about their planned activities while in the Park, the number one response has always been “viewing scenery – scenic views.” Over the years the number and quality of those scenic viewpoints along Park roads has gradually declined. When Park roads were constructed, the forests had been extensively logged and often burned in pre-Park days, leaving unobstructed views in every direction, but 75 years of forest recovery has resulted in many of the scenic overlooks becoming obscured by maturing trees.
Over the next few months a Park contractor will be rolling back this “natural clock” by reopening 34 of the most popular roadside vistas along the Park’s main roads. Park officials say that this will be the first major vista-clearing initiative in decades.
Acting Park Facility Manager, Charlie Sellars said, “We have developed specific clearing prescriptions for every one of the 34 overlooks scheduled for treatment. In each case we will have a Park staff person assigned to guide the contractor in determining which trees should be removed entirely and which will be trimmed or thinned.”
The Park’s goal in renewing its vista management program is to allow the views to be maintained on a seven year cycle. To achieve this, the contractor will apply herbicides to the stumps of the taller-growing tree species to prevent their re-sprouting. At the same time, they will be leaving the lower-growing or shrubby species, like rhododendron and mountain laurel, un-cut, so that eventually these low-growing native species will shade out and discourage the re-growth of the taller trees with less work by Park crews.
Motorists can expect to see vista management under way from April 1 through August 1 along Newfound Gap Road, Clingmans Dome Road, the East and West Foothills Parkway, the Gatlinburg Bypass, Rich Mountain Road, Roaring Fork Motor Nature Trail, Lakeview Drive and Cataloochee Road. No roads are expected to be closed to complete the work, but the overlooks being cleared will be closed as needed to accomplish the work safely.