At long last, Parson Branch Road reopens

Jay FitzBlount, Our Town Outdoors

After a long wait, Thursday welcomed the reopening of Parson Branch Road in Cades Cove. The historic, eight-mile gravel road in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park provides visitors of all abilities an opportunity to have a trail-like experience from their vehicles. Yesterday’s ribbon-cutting and celebration honored the hardworking National Park Service crew. The road was built by Russell Gregory in 1838 with a pick and shovel.

The one-way road was closed in 2016 after crews documented more than 1,700 dead-standing hemlock trees within falling distance of the road corridor along a one-mile section of the roadway. The trees died in 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 winds, making it feasible to remove the remaining damaged trees through a $150,000 contract with Richmond Tree Experts. 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.

To become a member or make a gift to Friends of the Smokies, go here. High clearance vehicles are recommended for traveling Parson Branch Road. Motorhomes, buses, vans longer than 25 feet and passenger vehicles towing trailers are prohibited.

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