Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials announced that efforts are underway to reopen Parson Branch Road in 2022. The eight-mile, primitive gravel road between Cades Cove and the western boundary of the park along Highway 129 has been closed since 2016 due to hazardous tree concerns. The Friends of the Smokies provided critical funding to support the removal of the trees. The road is targeted for reopening this summer.
Park crews originally delayed opening the road in the summer of 2016 due to a damaged, 20-linear-foot section of road caused by an uprooted dead tree. After further inspection, crews identified over 1,700 hazardous trees within falling distance of the road corridor. The road was closed to all vehicle use by the public. The estimated cost of hazardous tree removal for the area at the time, ranged between $300,000 and $450,000. The narrow, low speed roadway closely winds along the creek through mature forests containing a high concentration of Eastern hemlock trees which were dead or dying due to a widespread infestation of the non-native forest pest, hemlock woolly adelgid (HWA).
Park crews have continued to work diligently during the five-year closure to remove downed trees blocking the road and to make needed road repairs to ensure that the corridor was passable for emergency vehicles. Over this time period, more than half the dead trees have fallen due to natural deterioration and multiple large storm events. The Park secured funds for the removal of an additional 800 standing hazard trees along the road corridor from a $100,000 donation by the Friends of the Smokies, which was matched by an additional $50,000 from federal funds. The Park awarded the $150,000 contract to Richmond Tree Experts for the tree removal.
Once the tree removal work is complete, Park crews will begin working on road clean-up, ditching, and grading of the road surface to ready it for opening. More updates will be provided about the anticipated opening date by early summer. For more information about road closures, please follow SmokiesRoadsNPS on Twitter or visit the park website at www.nps.gov/grsm.
- National Park Service release