GATLINBURG, Tenn. — The Great Smoky Mountains National Park will receive $64million in federal economic stimulus money to rebuild roads and trails, repair buildings and restore cemeteries, park officials said Thursday.
Most of the $34 million from the Federal Highway Administration will be used to continue work on the Foothills Parkway overlooking the mountains, the oldest unfinished public works project in Tennessee.
Authorized by Congress in the 1940s, the parkway has a history of starts and stops, and today is only about half done.
Still, work has progressed almost continuously since 1999 on a nine-bridge, 1.5-mile-long "missing link" section that would connect two completed segments near Wears Valley. The new funding will pay for the fourth of the nine bridges, covering about 1,200 feet.
An additional $30 million in stimulus funding from the U.S. Department of Interior will pay for many smaller projects in what will be one of the largest cash infusions ever seen by the country's most visited national park, now celebrating its 75 anniversary.
"This is about eight times what the Smokies receives in an average year for projects of this type," Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said in a statement.
He said the money will go toward "improving the experience of those using park facilities as well as expanding job opportunities in our neighboring communities."
The Smokies attracts more than 9 million sightseers, hikers and outdoors enthusiasts annually to its 520,000 wooded acres straddling the North Carolina-Tennessee border. The park has an $18 million annual budget and averages about $7 million a year for stimulus-type improvements.