Waynesville - A slice of red ribbon flew off in the wind Thursday morning at the new Balsam Rest Area serving the southbound lanes of U.S. 23/74.
It's a wonder that Department of Transportation Secretary Nick Tennyson didn't chase it down like when he snared a stray paper earlier during a ceremony at the new facility and then noted the importance of litter prevention.
With the snip of scissors, Sec. Tennyson and other dignitaries celebrated the opening of the new rest area located at 19396 Great Smoky Mountain Highway and reiterated the significance of such facilities to the mountain region and across North Carolina.
"We want to leave a lasting impression on people who visit our state," Tennyson said. "Look at this building - it's representative of how people have lived for decades and it's a way to express that this is a great place and we're proud of it."
With approximately 1,500 square feet inside, the facility has a family restroom, a vending area, and was designed by Ginger Anderson of Weeks Turner Architecture. She used terrazzo flooring and vernacular materials make it fit right into the landscape.
The outside property features parking for cars, long-distance vehicles and trucks. It also offers picnic tables, a barbecue grill, a water fountain and landscaping that utilizes native stone, trees, bushes and flowers.
An existing facility serving the northbound lanes opened in 1989 and is undergoing a renovation and is expected to reopen in June. NCDOT contracted with Buchanan and Sons Inc., from Whittier, on the $6.15 million project to complete both relief stops.
"The older I get," joked N.C State Senator Jim Davis, "the more I appreciate these rest areas."
The Balsam Rest Area is expected to welcome between 300,000 and 350,000 visitors in a year, making it the busiest rest area in the state outside of interstate rest stops.
"We have 25 million visitors who use our rest areas," Tennyson said. "There are a lots of places people can go now, but rest areas are still key."
According to FHWA guidelines, rest areas are for highway safety and keeping travelers alert by allowing frequent stops during their travels. North Carolina has 41 interstate and 19 primary route rest areas for a total of 60 sites which attract more than 25 million visitors each year.
For real-time travel information, call 511, visit the Traveler Services section of NCDOT.gov or follow NCDOT on Twitter.