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N.C. business owners hope for partial re-opening of 'The Dragon'
Posted: Mar 26, 2010 3:53 PM EDT
6 News Reporter

TAPOCO, N.C. (WATE) - North Carolina business owners and officials hope to help get the stretch of U.S. 129 called the Dragon open again.

The closure of the Dragon from near Chilhowee Dam in Blount County, Tennessee to the North Carolina state line means this summer's tourist season will be dramatically different. The area normally attracts motorcycle riders and sports car drivers from around the world.

However, on Thursday officials with the Tennessee Department of Transportation said the Dragon will be closed through the end of July to clear a rockslide from earlier in March and stabilize the area.

Such a long closure could cost businesses in the area millions of dollars.

"Not just for myself, but for the region, this is a devastating blow," says Brad Talbott, owner of Deals Gap Motorcycle Resort in Tapoco, North Carolina.

Talbott hosted a meeting Friday with officials and business owners from North Carolina and Tennessee. They discussed how North Carolina may be able to help the Volunteer State.

They hope to partially re-open the main part of the Dragon so tourists can get to the area.

"The main attraction, the main reason why they come to Western North Carolina and Eastern Tennessee is Deals Gap, aka The Dragon," Talbott says.

Jody Montgomery, of the Punkin Center Motorcycle Resort in Maryville, Tennessee, says if a compromise isn't found soon, this could mean closing for many.

"Because this is peoples' life lines and it's just been cut, like you'd cut the jugular vein on a human. You kill off the supply line and you go away, and that's what's happening," Montgomery says.

Tennessee has closed the long stretch of road due to concerns over emergencies and liability for accidents.

If Tennessee agrees to open the barrier, Swain and Graham counties in North Carolina are offering to take over that responsibility, until the rockslide is cleared.

John Powell, owner of the Iron Horse Motorcycle Lodge in Graham County, says if the road is open, even partially, it will help a great deal.

"If the Dragon is open, it will bring people here even if they are inconvenienced a little bit by some of the rockslides. They will still come," Powell says.

A North Carolina state senator will take the ideas presented at Friday's meeting and write a proposal to go to the Tennessee Department of Transportation.
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