Tuesday, August 14, 2001

'Massacre Mountain' road returned to history, nature

The Associated Press

        MIDDLESBORO — Crews have begun removing the twisting blacktop road through Cumberland Gap where car crashes killed an average of five people a year before it closed in 1996.

        Mark Woods, superintendent of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park, said the project will return the passage to the state explorers like Daniel Boone saw when they came to Kentucky in the late 1700's.

        “It's been a long time in coming,” said park ranger Janice Miracle. “Visitors will be able to walk in the footsteps of some of the first people who came through.”

        The Cumberland Gap forms a major break in the Appalachian Mountain chain at the convergence of Kentucky, Tennessee and Virginia.

        The Federal Highway Administration is spending about $4 million to remove all traces of a 3.2-mile stretch of old U.S. 25E on the Kentucky-Virginia border. The project will restore the Wilderness Road to its approximate appearance in 1780, about five years after Daniel Boone and 30 men first marked a trail to open the nation's midsection for settlement.

        In modern times, local residents dubbed the historic mountain pass Massacre Mountain because of the inordinate number of crashes.

        “The project is all about restoring a historical path,” Ms. Miracle said. “The safety issue of what was called Massacre Mountain is a plus.”

        The National Park Service cited the high death rate on the road when they lobbied for money to build $240 million twin tunnels that opened through the mountain in 1996.

        Some 18,000 motorists crossed the mountain each day.

        Obliterating the road and restoring the original contour is expected to take about eight months. A Jonesville, Va., firm, Estes Brothers Construction, is doing the work.

        The Park Service has examined old journals and sketches to try to get the restoration as exact as possible. In excavating the tunnels, crews put aside native soil to use on the project.

        Woods said portions of some trails near the construction area will be closed while the work is under way, and tours of Cudjo Cavern may be temporarily suspended.

        “We know this incredible undertaking will draw a tremendous amount of interest from park neighbors and friends, but for their safety and the safety of workers, we ask that visitors do not enter the construction zone areas posted as closed,” he said.


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- 'Massacre Mountain' road returned to history, nature