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Cumberland Gap Restores a Path to the Past

October 20, 2002|From Reuters

MIDDLESBORO, Ky. — Politicians, history buffs and a few hundred spectators gathered at a notch in the Allegheny Mountains known as the Cumberland Gap on Saturday to celebrate the unbuilding of a highway.

They came to dedicate the newly restored Wilderness Road, a footpath through the Gap traveled first by American Indians and marked out in 1775 by famed frontiersman Daniel Boone.

Located where Kentucky, Virginia and Tennessee meet, the route served as a gateway for westbound pioneers but evolved in modern times into a dangerous stretch of pavement for drivers.

Saturday's ceremony capped a 30-year effort to obliterate a section of U.S. 25E known as "Massacre Mountain" and restore the mile-long earthen path through the Cumberland Gap to resemble the way it looked more than two centuries ago.

"Now you can walk out on the Wilderness Road in the Gap, where Boone and all the others passed through, and actually see deer and turkey. It's a major transformation from a highway that was carrying 18,000 vehicles a day six years ago," said Mark Woods, superintendent of the Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.

Through a joint project of the U.S. National Park Service and the Federal Highway Administration, traffic was diverted to a pair of nearby tunnels completed in 1996. Woods said the old highway recorded fatal accidents every year, but the new road has had none in six years.

Work to restore the Wilderness Road footpath began in August 2001. In addition to grinding up pavement from the old highway, crews moved hundreds of tons of earth to restore hills and a ravine that existed in Boone's time but were filled in when the U.S. highway was built in the 1900s.

"We have taken it back to its natural state," Woods said.

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