Reprinted from the Norris Bulletin
By Michael Carberry, Norris Planning Commissioner
The Norris Freeway was recently recognized as a National Scenic Byway by the U.S. Department of Transportation. The route runs along U.S.441 for roughly 30 miles from Rocky Top to Hall’s Crossroads. The National Scenic Byway concept was formed in 2020 by citizens and community leaders from Campbell, Anderson and Knox Counties. The leaders envisioned the byway as a means to share the landscape, scenic views and recreation opportunities with many more Americans.
Planning for the Norris Freeway scenic byway resulted in a corridor management plan, prepared though the Norris Planning Commission and a Freeway advisory group. After months of review, the U.S. Department of Transportation designated the Norris Freeway as a National Scenic Byway. In addition to its scenic qualities, the rationale was recognition of the Freeway’s many recreational assets, historic sites and museums.
The significance of Norris Freeway is captured eloquently by Carroll Van West, Tennessee State Historian. Writing about TVA’s accomplishments in the period 1933-36, he noted. “Through design, new engineering, and comprehensive planning—all accomplished with breathtaking speed–TVA made Norris its signature project, the ultimate “yardstick” of all future Authority endeavors. All of its major components and design elements— Norris Freeway, Norris Village, the Norris parks, Norris Lake, and the Norris overlooks–remain much as they were ‘eighty’ years ago, making the stretch of roadway between Norris and Halls a powerful metaphor of hopes, image, and reality of the Tennessee Valley Authority.”
The Norris Freeway is among 49 roadways in America that were recognized by the U.S. Department of Transportation this month as the newest National Scenic Byways and All-American Roads. Tennessee led the nation in the number of new designations. In addition to Norris Freeway, Cumberland
Historic Byway, Sequatchie Valley Scenic Byway, Newfound Gap Road over the Smokies, and the Great River Road, running parallel to the Mississippi River, were recognized. The recent call for nominations was the first occasion since 2008.
More to it than meets the eye
Norris Freeway has a unique history. Our East Tennessee region was blessed to have had forward-thinking TVA engineers during the 1930s. When Norris Dam was selected as the initial location for a dam to control the waters to the Tennessee River system, a railroad spur was considered to transport concrete, steel and related building materials from Coal Creek (now Rocky Top) to the dam site. TVA engineers essentially said “Whoa!” They went on to note that a Freeway could be built to transport the building materials to the Clinch River dam site, and southward to TVA offices in Knoxville for the same cost as a 6-mile railroad spur. Thank goodness for those engineers as the Freeway has opened doors to the lake, river, parks and historic places.
TVA’s engineering of the 1930s made the Freeway a pleasure to drive. The design team created a spiraling set of curves that were made to flow with the hilly landscapes. The Freeway designation was made because, with the exception of Emory Road, there were no fourway intersections, thus limiting traffic conflicts. There are no billboards nor roadside commercial stands, which were prohibited in the land purchase agreements. The
natural landscape is the result of the 250 to 350- foot wide right-of-way that was created to protect the scenery along the Freeway.
Norris Freeway’s recreational, scenic and historical assets include:
• Norris Dam State Park with its trails, cabins, campgrounds, and pool
• The Dam that created a 34,000-acre lake, 809 miles of shoreline and is now home to 22 marinas
• Numerous trails, including the River Bluff Trail, a local version of what can be found in the Smokies, and the Songbird Trail, perhaps the most gentle, walking and jogging pathway in east Tennessee (and the coolest summer loop, given the chilly 50-degree temperature of the Clinch River)
• River access points that enable trout fishing, motor boating and kayaking
• The Norris Watershed, with its roughly 30 miles of hiking, mountain biking and equestrian trails
• National Register of Historic Places resources, including Norris Dam, the
east side of Norris Dam State Park, and the Town of Norris, a model city created by TVA
• Museum resources, such as the Lenoir Museum, the Rice Grist Mill, and Crosby Threshing Barn, and the Museum of Appalachia
• The parks and trails of the Halls community
In earning the new scenic designation, the route will have greater access to federal grant funding from the National Scenic Byway Program and national marketing from the America’s Byways program.
The Norris Freeway nomination also included side trips that branch from the Freeway (US 441) to various places of interest:
• Route 116 to historical mining sites in Coal Creek (Rocky Top) and Briceville, including Coal Creek War sites and the Mining Museum
• TN 116 over Windrock Mountain or down the beautiful valley route
of Frost Bottom Road (TN 330), both leading to Brushy Mountain Prison and “October Sky” movie set scenes, and historic sites in Oliver Springs
• TN 61 to historic sites in Andersonville such as those of 19th century Andersonville Institute and onward to historic Big Ridge State Park
• Route 170 (Raccoon Valley Road) for visits to Oak Ridge, including Melton Hill Lake and the various Secret City museums
• Maynardville Highway/ Broadway (US 441) southwestward to Downtown
Knoxville with its early TVA offices, Market Square and Gay Street historic districts, museums and Old City historic sites.
The National Scenic Byways Program, established by Congress in 1991 and administered by the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), was created to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic byways and, at the same time, promote tourism and economic development.
More information about the National Scenic Byway Program can be found at https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/byways/.
The Norris Bulletin
P.O. Box 1527, Norris, TN