Balsam Mountain Campground and Heintooga Picnic Area in Great Smoky Mountains National Park has long been a popular spot, offering stunning mountain views from the park’s highest picnic spot at about 5,200 feet.
Located about an hour west of Asheville, the campground and picnic area are about 2 miles apart on Balsam Mountain, which sees more than 50,000 visitors a year, according to the National Park. Service. The campground, at 5,310 feet above sea level, welcomes more than 12,000 visitors a year.
Now the area’s 70-year-old water and wastewater systems need an overhaul, and the park is seeking a public review of the National Park Service’s environmental assessment, which outlines potential impacts. . The overhaul will prevent system failures and provide safe drinking water and proper sewage treatment and disposal for visitors.
Word from the Smokies:Partners help meet the needs of Great Smoky Mountains Park, visitors
“If the proposed project were not implemented, the water system would be more susceptible to issues such as broken water pipes or other equipment failures,” the Smokies spokeswoman said. , Dana Soehn, to the Citizen Times. “Water service would be temporarily closed at the campsite and picnic area if drinking water was deemed unsafe.”
The proposed project is large and would require 1.9 acres of land disturbance and approximately 1.1 acres of clearing, according to the EA.
Proposed improvements to the water system include replacing 9,450 feet of existing water lines and the current well pump, rehabilitating the existing 30,000 gallon underground water storage tank by capping it with a polyethylene liner, replacement of existing storage tank piping and valves, and construction of a new 1/4 mile gravel access road to the water tank.
Proposed upgrades to the sewer system include replacing 850 feet of sewer lines at the campground and installing two new conventional septic tanks, one for each comfort station in the picnic area.
The proposal comes amid a $245 million maintenance backlog in the Smokies, as problems begin to arise with aging infrastructure since the park was established in 1934.
In February, the Smokies received $31 million in Great American Outdoor Act funding to repave the Foothills Parkway West from Lake Chilhowee to Walland. The project, which began in March, will reduce deferred maintenance associated with the boardwalk by more than $25 million, according to NPS.
Great American Outdoors Act: Blue Ridge Parkway, Great Smokies to get millions for major renovations
“Each year, the park competes with other national parks for National Park Service funds through the repair/rehabilitation program,” Soehn said. “If the environmental assessment goes ahead, we expect to be successful in securing funding through this process.”
If the EA is approved, maintenance is expected to begin in late fall 2022 or early 2023 during the campground’s seasonal closure.
“The park values public input during the decision-making process, and soliciting public input on an EA is standard National Park Service practice,” Soehn said.
“Park managers will review all public comments received during the comment period and prepare written responses to substantive comments. Depending on the nature of the comments received, the park may revise the EA, revise the analysis, modify the alternatives or consider new alternatives.
The environmental assessment is available online for public review and comment here on the NPS website. The comment period ends July 26 at 11:59 p.m. MT.
Although online comments are the preferred method of the NPS, the public may also provide comments by mail sent to this address: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, ATTN: Balsam Mountain and Heintooga EA, 107 Park Headquarters Road Gatlinburg, TN 37738
More park restorations:
► Word from the Smokies: Partners help meet the needs of Great Smoky Mountains Park, visitors
► Craggy Gardens picnic area on Blue Ridge Parkway restored after years of disrepair
Ryley Ober is a news intern at the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA Today Network. Current advice? Email her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ryleyober