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Stretching from just outside Gatlinburg, TN to the outskirts of Cherokee, NC, Newfound Gap Road is one of the most beautiful drives in the country. For many visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, an autotour along Newfound Gap Road is the highlight of their trip.
Although Newfound Gap Road was designated a “State Scenic Byway” by Tennessee and North Carolina in 2009, it has not yet been recognized as a “National Scenic Byway”. Here in the Smokies, we think it’s about time for that to change! Officials in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park are working to make Newfound Gap Road a National Scenic Byway, and they need your help. Read on to learn how you can aid the National Park Service in their mission to get Newfound Gap Road the recognition it deserves.
What is a National Scenic Byway?
National Scenic Byways are roads that were granted special status by the United States Department of Transportation. The National Scenic Byway title is given to roads that display one or more of six “intrinsic qualities”:
If a road meets two or more of these qualities, it is designated an “All-American Road”. There are currently 150 roads recognized as National Scenic Byways or All-American Roads in the U.S.
The National Scenic Byway title is highly sought after because it allows the National Park Service to apply for grants to enhance and maintain the road. The official title also helps publicize the road and brings more vacationers to the surrounding cities.
Does Newfound Gap Road Qualify to Be a National Scenic Byway?
We may be a bit biased, but we certainly believe that Newfound Gap Road is a prime candidate for National Scenic Byway status! According to the National Park Service website, a trip over Newfound Gap Road “has often been compared to a drive from Georgia to Maine in terms of the variety of forests and ecosystems one experiences.”
Whether you start in Gatlinburg, TN or Cherokee, NC, you will climb approximately 3,000 feet as you make your way through cove hardwood, pine-oak, northern hardwood, and evergreen spruce-fir forest. The evergreen forest at Newfound Gap is particularly beautiful, and is similar to the boreal forests you can find in New England and eastern Canada. If all of this natural beauty doesn’t meet the “intrinsic scenic quality” necessary to be designated a National Scenic Byway, we don’t know what possibly could!
For more information about the highlights of this beautiful road, check out our Step-by-Step Guide to the Most Popular Spots Along Newfound Gap Road.
How Can I Help Newfound Gap Road Become a National Scenic Byway?
The first step for seeking National Scenic Byway status is submitting a “Corridor Management Plan”, which details how Newfound Gap Road would be preserved and managed to best protect its important qualities.
The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has put together a draft of a Corridor Management Plan, and they want your help to make it better! Officials are asking the public to give their input by answering the following two questions:
1. Are there significant visitor experiences available to visitors traveling Newfound Gap Road that have not been considered and what are those experiences?
2. Are there additional steps or strategies that should be considered that would help maintain the outstanding qualities of this corridor?
To read the Corridor Management Plan and leave a comment, click here. The plan will remain open for comments until February 24, 2017.
For a complete guide to everything there is to see and do in the Smokies, check out our Great Smoky Mountains National Park page!