Fool’s gold no more? Smokies’ missing link nears completion

In this June 13, 2012, file photo, workers use a specialized crane to place a concrete segment onto an 800-foot bridge in an area of the unfinished Foothills Parkway near Walland, Tenn. Work is underway to complete the extension of the scenic route near the northern boundary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park,. (Curt Habraken/The Mountain Press via AP, File).

WALLAND, Tenn. (AP) – Efforts to extend a serpentine ridge-top road with soaring views of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park have been thwarted for decades as engineers have grappled with how to complete a 1.6-mile stretch known as the missing link.

Now, thanks to a $35 million commitment from the federal government, National Park Service and the state of Tennessee, the 10-bridge stretch can finally be completed.

That comes as a thrill to supporters who say it will open up one of the most scenic areas of the Foothills Parkway. But it concerns those who say the project has gotten too expensive and poses a threat to the environment.

Congress approved the 72-mile parkway along the northern boundary of the park in 1944. After the new segment is completed, the total length will have reached 39 miles.