The Cherohala Skyway
From Wagon Train to Skyway*
History of the Skyway
It all began in 1958; in jest, at a Tellico Plains Kiwanis Club meeting. There was a general discussion about the lack of roads across the mountains from Tellico Plains to western North Carolina, and a concerned citizen piped up: “Why don’t we have a ‘wagon train?’ We only have wagon roads…”
Others at the meeting apparently liked the idea, and the first wagon train across the mountains was set for July 4th, 1958. This date also marked the beginning of the battle to build the Cherohala Skyway.
Organized by Charles Hall, mayor of Tellico Plains for 31 years, the wagon train immediately became an annual event to create publicity for the road project. Eventually the wagoners got the attention of U.S. Senator Estes Kefauver, a Madisonville native, who strongly supported the project and was instrumental in obtaining needed funds. (Wagon photo used by permission from MuleSkinner.com)
Construction of the highway was delayed by everything from lack of money to acid leaks from a local rock formation. Finally dedicated in 1996, the new Cherohala Skyway is currently designated as a National Scenic Byway, making it one of only twenty such roads in the U. S. earning this honor.
That first wagon train of 67 wagons and 325 horseback riders later grew into a much larger group. The final trek was held in 1996 and became a victory lap for Charles Hall and others to celebrate the fruition of their dreams. The mayor’s dedicated efforts were rewarded by naming the impressive bridge span across Laurel Branch after him.
The Cherohala Skyway (designated Hwy 165 or Overhill Skyway by the US Forest Service) is named after the Cherokee National Forest where it begins, and the Nanatahala where it ends. The Skyway first winds along the Tellico River and through the Cherokee Forest to Indian Boundary Lake and Campground, then through Stratton Gap at the TN/NC border, by the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest, then terminating in Robbinsville, NC. Don’t miss Bald River Falls (right) and other great treasures.
For more information, check out the Tellico Plains and Monroe county websites.
Below are some more views of the Cherohala Skyway and Joyce Kilmer National Park.
The JOYCE KILMER NATIONAL FOREST (pictures below) was dedicated in the 1930’s by FDR as a memorial to America’s Poet Laureate killed in WWI. This park protects some of the largest old-growth trees in the U.S. Nearby MAPLE SPRINGS OBSERVATION POINT has great views of the forest area.