Appalachian Trail to get land bridge over highway at Stecoah Gap; expect hiking detours
Those hiking the Appalachian Trail, the 2,190-mile footpath that stretches from Georgia to Maine, will see some delays and detours near Robbinsville in Graham County as construction on N.C. 143 gears up, according to a Jan. 31 U.S. Forest Service news release.
Construction is a part of the North Carolina Department of Transportation's Corridor K Highway Improvement Project, which will widen shoulders, add passing and climbing lanes and make other improvements to various parts of a 12-mile stretch between Robbinsville and Stecoah. That stretch is a part of Corridor K, itself a part of the Appalachian Development Highway System, a 3,090-mile network of highways that links Appalachia.
Hikers looking to cross the highway at Stecoah Gap may be temporarily delayed by passing cars and may need permission from road flaggers before crossing. Delays are expected to last for at least two years, the release said.
According to NCDOT Communications Officer David Uchiyama, the trail will also see temporary detours but will not close at any point during construction. Detours will take hikers away from active construction, he said, complete with fencing, safety barriers and a crosswalk to keep hikers safe.
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"Hikers should remain alert, follow the detour signs, and be aware of their surroundings near Stecoah Gap," Uchiyama said. "There should be very little interruption to most hikes, even during construction, and we anticipate that when the land bridge is complete, it will enhance the hiking experience."
Each year more than 3,000 hikers begin a "thru-hike" of the Appalachian Trail, most traveling northbound, and many begin the six-month journey starting in February and March at Springer Mountain, Georgia, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, the nonprofit that maintains the trail.
Many of these thru-hikers will hit Western North Carolina around April. The AT runs through 14 states, including nearly 96 miles in North Carolina, including a section in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
As a part of the project, a land bridge will be constructed over the highway at Stecoah Gap, and the Appalachian Trail will be diverted to cross it. According to the project's website, the bridge will "offset any impacts associated with widening N.C. 143 and provide safe passage for wildlife and hikers using the trail."
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In addition to the bridge, the website says the project will:
Improve road alignments of U.S. 129, N.C. 143 and N.C. 28.
Increase shoulder widths and add passing and climbing lanes to the whole project, with N.C. 143 and N.C. 28 receiving two 12-foot lanes with 10-foot shoulders.
Add a 10-foot pedestrians and cyclist path on the south side of N.C. 28 from Stecoah Road to Hyde Town Road.
Construct sidewalks on N.C. 143 from Robbinsville High School to the intersection of U.S. 129 and Five Point Road.
"This project is among the last of the Appalachian Development Highway System’s corridors to be completed due to the challenges associated with the region’s mountainous terrain and sensitive natural habitat," the website says.
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Groundbreaking for the project took place on Oct. 3, 2022, but no end date has been determined. The project will cost an estimated $681 million, the website says, which is being paid for by the federal Appalachian Regional Commission and by federal grants.
Christian Smith is the general assignment reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times. Questions or comments? Contact him at RCSmith@gannett.com or 828-274-2222.
This article originally appeared on Asheville Citizen Times: Appalachian Trail to be moved, road crossing delays at Stecoah Gap