The North Shore Road Tunnel is a tunnel open to pedestrians in Swain County, North Carolina. It was constructed from 1963 to 1970 as part of the planned North Shore Road along Fontana Lake in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The development of North Shore Road began in the mid-1920’s, when the Forney Creek Road District issued bonds to support the construction of NC 288 on the north shore of the Fontana River. 2 In 1933, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was formed by an Act of Congress to develop flood control, create navigable waterways and construct power plants in the south. One of TVA’s earliest projects was to construct Fontana Dam.
Fontana Dam was proposed by ALCOA, which owned a major smelting plant in Maryville, Tennessee, in 1940. 2 As early as the 1910’s, ALCOA began acquiring property along the Little Tennessee River and its tributaries with the intention of developing hydroelectric power. In 1941, ALCOA and TVA reached an agreement in which ALCOA transferred land purchased for the Fontana Dam project to the TVA in exchange for dependable, cheap electricity.
With the advent of World War II, the need for aluminum was great. 2 The TVA jump started construction on Fontana Dam in 1942, which required the eventual abandonment of NC 288. The TVA, state, National Park Service, and Swain County entered into an agreement for the construction of a replacement road for NC 288 from Bryson City to Fontana. 1
The Fontana Dam was completed in November 1944 and in 1947, work began on the western section of the new North Shore Road near Fontana Dam. 2 Only one mile was completed.
In 1948, the TVA transferred 44,000 acres of land along the north shore of Fontana Lake to the Department of the Interior, which was used to extend the southern boundaries of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 2
The state of North Carolina constructed its replacement NC 288 from Bryson City to the national park boundary in 1959. 2 The intention of the road was to connect to the one-mile segment by Fontana Dam.
Between 1963 and 1970, the park service extended North Carolina’s NC 288 westward for six miles, including an 1,200-foot tunnel. 2 All further work was halted in 1971 due to major environmental concerns due to the discovery of Anakeesta rock. When exposed to the air or water, the graphitic-sulfidic rock creates sulfuric acidic runoff which could irreversibly harm Fontana Lake.
In 1980, the Secretary of the Interior supported a $9.5 million cash settlement for Swain County in lieu of completing the North Shore Road, which was supported by the Smokies Wilderness bill of 1987. 2 After decades of controversy, Congressman Heath Shuler brokered a deal between the U.S. Department of Interior and Swain County, with the federal government agreeing to pay Swain County $52 million in lieu of completing NC 288 on the north shore of Fontana Lake.