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U.S. 441 gets an honor

Norris Freeway designated official U.S. ‘Scenic Byway’

The Grist Mill just off Norris Freeway (U.S. 441) in Norris Dam State Park is one of the scenic spots highlighted in the information about the newly designated U.S. 441 National Scenic Byway. (photo:G. Chambers Williams III )
Norris Freeway – also known as U.S. 441 – has now been added to the growing list of official U.S. “Scenic Byways.”

The U.S. Department of Transportation bestowed the honor on the section of U.S. 441 from Halls Crossroads in Knox County to Rocky Top in mid-February, said Michael Carberry, a member of the city of Norris Planning Commission who was largely responsible for getting the special designation for the highway.

Carberry prepared the extensive application and dozens of photos of scenes along and close to U.S. 441 to submit to the Federal Highway Administration – part of the Department of Transportation – early last year.

The idea came from Norris City Manager Scott Hackler, who, along with Carberry, enlisted help from other public entities along the route, including the Anderson, Campbell and Knox county governments, the city of Rocky Top, Norris Dam State Park, and the Tennessee Valley Authority.

“Anderson County Mayor Terry Frank was very much in favor of it and wrote a nice letter in support of our application,” Carberry said Monday.

Also giving support to the effort were then-U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, Tennessee Lt. Gov. Randy McNally, state Rep. Dennis Powers, Anderson County Commissioner Joshua Anderson, and the Museum of Appalachia, among others, Norris officials said.

“A ‘National Scenic Byway’ is a road recognized by the United States Department of Transportation for one or more of six ‘intrinsic qualities’: archeological, cultural, historic, natural, recreational, and scenic,” according to Wikipedia.

“The program was established by Congress in 1991 to preserve and protect the nation’s scenic but often less-traveled roads and promote tourism and economic development. The National Scenic Byways Program is administered by the Federal Highway Administration.”

The entry also notes that “The most-scenic byways are designated All-American Roads, which must meet two out of the six intrinsic qualities. The designation means they have features that do not exist elsewhere in the United States and are unique and important enough to be tourist destinations unto themselves.

120 National Byways

“As of November 2010, there [were] 120 National Scenic Byways and 31 All-American Roads, located in 46 states (all except Hawaii, Nebraska, Rhode Island, and Texas).”

The U.S. 441 application received approval at the state level last fall, and needed only the OK from the federal government to become official.

“The application for this designation was presented by myself to the Norris Planning Commission and Norris City Council for initial approval to proceed,” Hackler said in November. “Michael Carberry … provided most of the effort to recruit stakeholders from Halls Crossroads to Rocky Top to assist in the letters of recommendation and application. In that regard, the city of Norris was the lead agency applying for the designation.”

Dates to 1936

Norris Freeway runs through the western side of the city of Norris and over the top of Norris Dam, which was completed in 1936 as the first TVA dam. The road is part of the 939-mile-long U.S. 441, which begins in Rocky Top where it takes off from U.S. 25W and runs all way to Miami, through parts of East Tennessee, Western North Carolina and Georgia before entering Florida along its northern border with Georgia.

The Scenic Byway designation “puts us on the map,” Hackler said.Supporting the nation’s Scenic Byways is the nonprofit National Scenic Byway Foundation (, which calls itself, “The National Voice of Scenic Byways and Roads, dedicated to strengthening Byways and actively involved in the quest for renewed Byway Federal funding.”

Carberry said Monday that the U.S. Congress in December approved a $16 million appropriation to help promote the scenic byways, and that the addition of Norris Freeway to the list could bring significant attention to our region.

His application included side trips that can be made from Norris Freeway, “including one out to the Secret City, one up through coal mining country and its historical sites, another up the valley of east Anderson County to Big Ridge State Park,” he said.

A ‘unique history’

“Norris Freeway has a unique history,” Carberry wrote in a news release about the scenic byway designation. “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 six-mile railroad spur. Thank goodness for those engineers as the freeway has opened doors to the lake, river, parks and historic places.”

Nearby assets

According to the release, Norris Freeway’s recreational, scenic and historical assets include:

• Norris Dam State Park.

• 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 ... Norris, a model city created by TVA.

• The Lenoir Museum, Rice Grist Mill, Crosby Threshing Barn, and the Museum of Appalachia.

• The parks and trails of the Halls community.