Great Smoky Mountains Natl. Park — The Parson Branch Road, originally constructed in 1838, has reopened to the public after a six-year closure, according to Great Smoky Mountains National Park officials.
“We are pleased to reopen Parson Branch Road in time for the 2022 summer season,” said Deputy Superintendent Alan Sumeriski. "Not only does this restore access to one of the most special places in the Smokies, it also allows another opportunity for people of all abilities to spread out and explore less traveled areas of this very busy park.”
GSMNP officials said the one-way, eight-mile road was closed in 2016 after crews documented more than 1,700 dead standing dead hemlock trees within falling distance of the road corridor along a one-mile section of the roadway. The trees died due to a widespread infestation of the non-native forest pest, hemlock woolly adelgid.
Over the last six years, more than half the dead trees fell due to natural deterioration and multiple large wind events, making it feasible to remove the remaining damaged trees through a $150,000 contract with Richmond Tree Experts, officials said.
According to a press release, the Friends of the Smokies provided $100,000 to meet this need, which was matched by an additional $50,000 in federal funds. Park crews then completed needed road repairs including improving drainage and grading the road surface which required the replacement of 16 culverts and 550 tons of gravel.
Parson Branch Road is a historic, gravel road that follows a route traveled by people for more than 180 years, officials said.
Officials said that Blount County commissioned Cades Cove resident Russell Gregory to oversee the construction of the road, which was completed in 1838, to provide access from Cades Cove to what is now Highway 129. The road provided a significant commerce route for Cades Cove residents, including direct access to the Little Tennessee River for trading goods.
The road provides motorists a trail-like experience through a mature forest canopy with nearly 20 stream crossings, officials said. The road also provides access to trails such as Gregory Bald Trail which is a popular route for hikers in June to experience the hybridizing azaleas in bloom atop the high-elevation grassy bald.
A press release states that high clearance vehicles are recommended for traveling Parson Branch Road. Motorhomes, buses, vans longer than 25 feet, and passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited.
The seasonally opened road is generally open from April to November annually. The road will close for the season on November 13, officials said.
For more information about the operating schedule for roads and facilities in the park click here.