which was a nickname given to Black enlisted men who served in the American West after the Civil War. However, with the establishment of the National Park Service (NPS) in 1916, the responsibility for updating and maintain- ing roads in these areas was centralized. Stephen Mather was selected as the first head of the NPS, and, along with introducing amenities such as restrooms and concession stands to the parks, he set about improving the infrastructure necessary for increased auto traffic. This push for improved infrastructure by the NPS led to the undertaking and completion of some of the most innovative and noteworthy road construction projects in the United States’ his- tory to that point. With funding from both the Department of the Interior and several acts of congress, the NPS set about tackling the problem of accessibility to some of the country’s most remote and rugged terrains. In 1921, work began on Going-to-the-Sun Road in Glacier Na- tional Park. With a total land area of more than 1 million acres, Glacier National Park contains two mountain ranges and over 130 lakes. Working with the Bureau of Public Roads, the NPS sought to create the first road that would not only traverse the park but also cross the continental divide. The plan was to create a roughly 50-mile road that included two tunnel sections and a switchback section climbing to 6,646 feet. Construction on Going-to-the-Sun Road was officially completed in 1932, although lower elevation sections of the road were not completed to standard until the early 1950s. Records indicate that three workers lost their lives in the project. In 1927, a slightly larger project involving three separate Na- tional Parks was launched in Southern Utah. In order to provide direct access to Bryce Canyon and Grand Canyon National Parks, officials at Zion National Park drafted a plan for the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. This 25-mile stretch of highway would be the final piece in a “Grand Loop”, which would allow people a tour of the area's parks and monuments.
Construction on the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway would prove to be uniquely difficult. Deemed “a road designed to go where no
Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway. Photo: Devin Carothers
road had gone before”, the highway not only winds through and up Pine Creek Canyon, it also features a stunning 1.1 mile tunnel through solid rock. The task of constructing this tunnel was given to the workers of the Nevada Contracting Company who began the project by blasting sev- eral gallery windows into the cliff face. These windows, which now provide stunning views of the landscape, were instrumental in the tunnel’s construction–providing both ventilation and a point at which they could unload debris from the tunnel. Two years and ten months from the day construction began, the highway and tunnel were open to the public, and the dream of the Grand Loop was realized. Now listed on the National Register of Historic Places as well as a Historic Civil Engineering Landmark by the American Society of Civil Engineers, the Zion-Mt. Carmel Highway is an enduring testament to the way in which engineering and the environment can harmonize. This is by no means a comprehensive accounting of all the major infrastructure and engineering feats that have aided our appreciation of the world’s natural beauty. These projects have created an indelible legacy–providing comfort, solitude, and stunning views to visitors from around the world. The legacy of the men who built these roads, tunnels, bridges, and walls is not only written in stone and concrete, but also that infra- structure can provide a gateway to something that can be shared by everyone: nature.
LUKE CAROTHERS is the Editor for Civil + Structural Engineer Media. If you want us to cover your project or want to feature your own article, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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