Skyline Drive and the Appalachian Trail

Trail Club members are aware of the Public Works project for an extended Skyline Drive to connect the Shenandoah and Great Smoky Mountains National Parks. Members participating in the Trail work and maintaining sections of the Trail will naturally be very much interested in the effect of the road extension upon the Appalachian Trail. These notes are intended to set forth the effect of the road and the steps which have been taken to counteract any interference with the Trail. It is a statement of facts, avoiding any consideration of the controversial matter of Trail vs. Highway problem.


By the existing trail the distance between the Shenandoah National Park and the Great Smokies is 561 miles. Conceivably the road connection can be no shorter. The route of the Skyline Drive, as approved, approximates the route of the Trail along the Blue Ridge from Swift Run Gap as far as Robinson Gap, a short distance north of the James River. There is no conflict in the Roanoke Valley section but from the Pinnacles of the Dan south to Fishers Peak on the Virginia-North Carolina line, the conflict in route is again experienced. The total Trail mileage, where the Highway and Trail routes practically coincide, is 202 miles.


When the much discussed issue of the route of the road from the Shenandoah Park south across Virginia was finally determined so that the exact problem could be appreciated, the Trail Conference requested the Park Service to relocate the Trail where it was interfered with by the Highway, relying upon certain resolutions of the Board of Public Works requiring the construction of a footpath where roads were built with public funds. The report of the Chairman of the Trail Conference, dated October 1, 1934, sets forth in detail the effect of the road project and the action taken. The Solicitor of the Department of Interior, upon considering the matter, concluded that the authorization for this Drive, which was prior to the enactment of the regulations requiring a footpath. permitted the expenditure of money only for actual highway construction. but suggested that if the Park Service wished to achieve this result, the authorization should be amended. It is a very satisfactory and pleasing indication of the attitude of the Park Service to find that upon receipt of the Solicitor's opinion, it immediately asked the Public Works Administration to extend the authorization to permit the reconstruction of the Trail where interfered with by the highway. The areal limits of such reconstruction are, of course, the rights of way of the highway or publicly owned lands. ( Much of the Trail area is, of course, in the Shenandoah National Park or the Natural Bridge National Forest.) This application is now pending before the Public Works Administration and the next issue of the Bulletin will report the result.


As far as interference experienced by the Trail Club is concerned members are already familiar with the practically completed new trail between Thornton Gap and Swift Run Gap. In the extreme northern and southern portions of the Park, where there will be further interference, certain sections have already been constructed. Trail Club officials have pressed the Park Service to complete the Trail in these links and we have been assured of every possible cooperation in completing the foot trail through the entire Shenandoah National Park. While the location at times may be nearer the highway than would be desirable under ideal conditions, nevertheless the ease of travel and the improved footway will make possible access to this region by those for whom the previous route was too difficult. From the point of view of trail construction and scenic opportunities, the new trail will have - save in the Great Smokies - few rivals in the east.


The attitude of the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club, which next to our own organization is more closely affected by the Skyline Drive than any other club, is expressed in their Bulletin No. 30, of November 12, 1934, as follows:


"The Chairman of the Board of Managers of the Appalachian Trail Conference, Myron H. Avery, has issued an excellent report on the conditions of the trail and its progress, in which are discussed various problems now before the movement.


"'The perpetual problem before the Appalachian Trail Conference is that of trail maintenance,' says Mr. Avery. 'How it is met will determine the ultimate fate of the Appalachian Trail. At best there is much of sheer drudgery in trail maintenance. The zest found in original trail construction is lacking. The seriousness of this problem cannot be over-emphasized and our greatest handicap is that such maintenance is volunteer work and we lack effective means of bringing delinquent sections - and there are many even now - up to standard.' The Chairman will send a report - possibly quarterlyÄ to the board of managers and to the Clubs actively fostering the Trail project, which includes, of course, the Natural Bridge Appalachian Trail Club. This report will help furnish information, stimulation, and inspiration for continuation and advancement of trail activities.


"Skyline Roads have presented problems which have worked out not nearly so formidable as in prospect. In Shenandoah National Park thirty-five miles of the Trail were affected by the road, this fall there will be completed thirty-five miles of new Park Service Grade A trail instead; the trail project is, therefore, the winner. The trail is much concerned with the route of the skyline road which will connect the Shenandoah and Great Smoky National Parks. An effort will be made to have the Government reconstruct a trail where disturbed by the road. The local Club officials have reached the conclusion that the skyline drive in our section will not interfere nearly as much with our trail as first thought; the nearness, of the road, when built, to our Trail will render it much more accessible and there will be long stretches distant from the highway, relocation of trails disturbed by the new road will give the Club fresh projects. The future of our section of trail is bright."


The route from the Shenandoah National Park to Blowing Rock in North Carolina was the first to be determined. The extension to the Great Smokies was the subject of a very vigorous controversy between the States of North Carolina and Tennessee. The so-called Tennessee route would have interfered with about a hundred miles of trail on the boundary between North Carolina and Tennessee. Secretary Ickes has announced his decision, following a public hearing on September 18, 1934, at Washington, at which the views of the two States were presented amid much oratory. Secretary Ickes has decided in favor of the North Carolina route and thereby has saved the Trail Conference the problem of any relocation south of Virginia, for the North Carolina route, below the Virginia boundary, presents absolutely no interference with the trail route, being many, many miles to the east. The route of the highway extension as determined by Secretary Ickes is as follows:

"Heretofore, I have already determined the route from the Shenandoah National Park running west through the State of Virginia and across North Carolina as far as Blowing Rock in the latter State. My further decision is that the route from Blowing Rock to the Great Smoky National Park shall follow approximately the route suggested by the proponents of the so-called North Carolina routes: that is to say, west of Blowing Rock the route will run south of Linville City along the Blue Ridge, and the Mount Mitchell and Craggy ranges, which lie east of Asheville, North Carolina, thence into the Mount Pisgah range, bending sharply northwest on a line along that range west of Waynesville, with an entrance into the park at a point where it will connect with the Newfound Gap Highway near Cherokee, North Carolina."


Secretary Ickes' decision was released on November 10, 1934. He found the two conflicting routes of practically equal scenic value. A major consideration in his decision seems to have been the impression that Tennessee already had an entrance to the Park in the road' to Gatlinburg (which incidentally crosses the mountain to North Carolina), and that North Carolina was entitled to a corresponding entrance to the Park. The Secretary also found that the North Carolina route had the higher altitude and "could be depended upon for lower temperatures during the months of greatest travel" and would cross only three large streams while the Tennessee route would cross seven rivers. The Secretary thought it fair to take into account the argument of North Carolina that the selection of the Tennessee route would be to sound the death knell of the large tourist business which had been built up in North Carolina, with Asheville as a center.


The concluding paragraphs of Mr. Ickes' letter with respect to the future of a scenic highway in the east are of much interest:


"There is a further consideration in favor of the North Carolina route. People who have studied the matter for many years have visualized a great national scenic highway which would start perhaps in New Hampshire and follow the first definite line of mountains west of the Atlantic Seaboard all the way to Georgia. This chain is often referred to generally as the Blue Ridge. From the White Mountains in the north it merges into the Berkshires of Massachusetts and Connecticut; the Highlands of the Hudson in New York, the mountainous northern section of New Jersey, the Blue Ridge of Maryland and Virginia and North Carolina, and ends roughly at Stone Mountain in Georgia or possibly in Pine Mountain about fifty miles still further south. There it melts into the coastal plain of the Gulf and south Georgia. The North Carolina route will serve as a more logical connecting link between the Northeast Atlantic States and the southeast Atlantic States than if it were to be carried into Tennessee.


"If the scenic highway under discussion is as successful as we believe it will be, there is no reason why the increased demand for routes of this type should not result in the building of another north and south scenic highway which would follow roughly the main chain of the Appalachian system. Such a route would begin logically in western New York, south of Buffalo, and would run through western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, eastern Kentucky (i.e., Cumberland Mountain on the Virginia-Kentucky line), where it would cross the valley through or near Bristol to tie in with the mountains on the Tennessee side and there enter the Great Smoky National Park. Or it could go a little further west to a point near Knoxville and thence to Chattanooga."



-Myron Avery