The Road to Nowhere

Bryson City, NC – “The Road To Nowhere”, as most local residents call it, is a 6-mile scenic drive into the North Carolina side of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park where it dead-ends. It provides spectacular views of Fontana Lake and the Appalachian Mountains and was originally named “Lakeview Drive”, but since the road was never completed (as the government promised) residents, who were forced to leave their homes in order for Fontana Dam to be built, gave it the name of “The Road To Nowhere”. This road was originally to be built to provide the many residents, who gave up their land for the Fontana Dam project, access to their ancestral gravesites.

One of the most popular sites along this road is the abandoned tunnel at the end of it, almost a 1/4 mile in length this tunnel will leave you in the dark wondering if you will ever reach that light or not. However, when you do reach the end of the tunnel there are various hiking trails that lead off in to the park and make for great adventures. Be sure and take a flashlight if you want to see all of the unique artwork sprayed throughout the tunnel walls.

The Story Behind it All….

In the midst of World War II, while many Swain and Graham County NC men were fighting for their country, the US Government and the Tennessee Valley Authority decided to build a hydroelectric power dam which would flood 11,000 acres of North Carolina land. The TVA bought or took 67,800 acres of land from Graham and Swain Counties leaving 1,300 families homeless, some of which were widows with children, some who were elderly and many of which had never lived anywhere else. These people received no relocation assistance from the TVA or the government and the ones who refused to sell, had their land condemned and taken.

The government in order to appease these people promised two things: First, to reimburse Swain County for Hwy 288, which would be flooded when the lake was filled, and second to build a road around the park to give access to the more than 28 cemeteries that were left behind when these people were forced from their land. In 1943 the Government did pay approximately $400,000 to the State of North Carolina, which represented the principle which Swain County then owed in outstanding bonds, but Swain County did not actually see any of this money.

Approximately 6 miles of the road, including a bridge and a 1,200-foot tunnel (seen above), were completed by the end of 1969, but the remaining 26 miles was never finished. Many of the people, who were forced to leave their homes, are still waiting for the government to build the road to their ancestral cemeteries as promised and they were extended an olive branch, so to speak, in October 2000 when US Representative, Charles Taylor and Senator, Jesse Helms secured federal funding of $16 million toward the construction of the North Shore Road Project.

Only time will tell if a promise made almost 60 years ago can or will be kept, but the old-timers born and raised in this area have been offered a small ray of hope and they remain optimistic.

In spite of the broken promise, the Road to Nowhere is a beautiful drive and offers a variety of attractions worth checking out. Read more.