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Smokies: Road to Nowhere won’t impair park

Controversy over proposed changes to the mission of the National Park Service has landed at the doorstep of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Embroiled in a controversy of its own over whether to build the North Shore Road, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park has become a national example of what the proposed changes could mean for parks.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park released a massive, long-awaited document last week analyzing the impacts of the proposed road — a 30-mile route along the remote southern edge of the park from Bryson City to Tennessee.

The park’s assessment found the road would have “major, adverse, long-term impacts” on nearly every variable studied: visitor experience, historical sites, endangered species, creeks, wetlands, soundscapes and scenic qualities, to name a few.

“The list goes on and on,” said Greg Kidd with the National Parks Conservation Association in Waynesville. “What’s absurd is after listing all these major, adverse, long-term impacts, the document goes on to say that the North Shore Road is not anticipated to cause impairment on the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.”

Kidd said the park’s conclusion that the road would not impair the Smokies despite the numerous impacts the Park itself documented foreshadows a lowering of the bar the new National Park Service guidelines would institute.

“The changes in the management policies are completely unnecessary. They weaken and soften the park’s ability to protect against impairment,” said Kidd. “If something like the North Shore Road doesn’t rise to the level of impairment, then what in the world would rise to the level of impairment?”

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