Two Years Later, Two Major Smoky Mountain Trails Open

While tornadoes are fairly rare in this part of the state, a few that sprang up two years caused quite a bit of damage in the park that was still being felt up until just a few days ago.

Due to the storm that produced those tornadoes, the national park service had to close two major trails in the area. Those two Smoky Mountain hiking trails have now reopened and are ready for heavy hiking boot traffic.

The National Park Service said the Beard Cane and Hatcher Mountain trails – both in the west end of the 500,000-acre Great Smoky Mountains National Park – have been repaired and are again open. They were the last of 10 damaged trails to be reopened.

Thousands of trees were knocked down by an F-4 tornado that struck near Cades Cove in April 2011, forcing the closing of 50 miles of trails. One campsite, Backcountry Site 11, has been permanently closed because damage left it unsuitable for use.

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Third Distillery to Call Gatlinburg Home

The moonshine business is booming in Gatlinburg…. Legally, that is. And there looks to be some additional competition on the horizon.

Plans are in place to open a third moonshine distillery in Gatlinburg by year end.

Despite a few snags, the Sugarlands Distilling Company project is moving right along despite there being two distilleries already taking up residence downtown.

“It’s difficult to get a distillery licensed, and so we’ve encountered some issues with the city and hopefully we’ve overcome all of those issues right now and now we’re on to getting our state licensing and federal licensing,” said Ned Vickers, developer for the Sugarlands Distilling Company.

As alluded to, the crux of the issue is Sugarland’s close vicinity to Ole Smoky Moonshine Distillery downtown. Distilleries are required be at least 1,000 feet apart according to city ordinances. There are also limits in place as to the number of distilleries that can operate in a city, which currently reads “4”.

According to officials with the city of Gatlinburg, new state law overrides any ordinances that were previously set making it fair game for anyone who wishes to open a distillery no matter how many were established beforehand.

For a number of people, these new measures could be a good thing for Gatlinburg. Two moonshine distilleries less than a block apart could even bring in more tourists to a town that heavily relies on its tourist dollars.

Over the years, many visitors have come to the area solely to purchase moonshine and other regionally-related gifts.

As for the Sugarlands Distilling Company, they’ve got a plan to market its brand of moonshine that will set itself apart from other distilleries. They even hope to break ground within the coming weeks.

“We’re going to have different recipes. We’re going to have a little bit different focus than Ole Smoky does, and we’re also going to plan to start barreling and selling Tennessee Whiskey,” Vickers said.

National Park Asking for Volunteer Guides

If you’ve ever wanted to give back to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park for all that it has given to its millions of visitors over the years, now could just be the perfect time. And no, they aren’t asking for money or anything like that. Just time and a helping hand. Plus, you get a chance to get up close to some of the park’s magnificent wildlife.

To be more specific, the national park needs volunteers to assist in guiding visitors who come into the park to view Elk on the North Carolina side. Elk are located in the Cataloochee area, which can basically be classified as a remote mountain valley in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Volunteers will aid park rangers in directing traffic and instructing visitors on responsible elk viewing in the park.

Elk were reintroduced in Cataloochee in 2001 as part of an experimental release to determine if an elk herd could sustain itself in the park after a 200-year absence. Approximately 140 elk now live in the self-sustaining herd. The Cataloochee elk herd can be seen regularly in the fields of the valley, especially in the early morning and evening hours. Other wildlife commonly spotted include bear, deer, and turkeys.

As for the volunteer program, those selected are asked to work at least two scheduled, four-hour shifts per month starting the second week in May and continuing through November. For more information, call Park Ranger Pete Walker at (828) 506-1739.

Newfound Gap

There might not be a more popular, or needed, man-made portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, than Newfound Gap. Typically described as a low point between two mountains, Newfound Gap runs straight through the park from Gatlinburg, TN to Cherokee, NC. It’s also considered the lowest drivable pass through the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

The old crossing was at a place called Indian Gap which is found just west of Newfound Gap Road. When the lower, easier crossing was discovered, it became known as the “newfound” gap. Construction of a new road followed, and thus, Newfound Gap Road came to be.

The forest ecosystems that one can experiences during a trip down Newfound Gap Road have been compared to those if you were to drive from Georgia to Maine. From native hardwood to pine-oak and northern hardwood, those are just a few species that provide canopy along the way. The woodlands will almost make it seem like you’re traveling through a northern park.

The Appalachian Trail crosses over Newfound Gap Road and straddles the state line between North Carolina and Tennessee for most of its length through the park. Visitors can enjoy a short stroll to stretch their legs or a multi day backpacking excursion on the AT as it runs through the park.

Just south of Newfound Gap, the 7-mile Clingmans Dome Road climbs to within 0.5 mile of Clingmans Dome the highest peak in the Smokies. From the large parking area at the end of the road, a 0.5-mile trail climbs steeply to an observation tower at the “top of old Smoky.” Clingmans Dome Road is closed December 1 – March 31.

from Gatlinburg—16
from Cherokee—18

The River Walk and Downtown

So you thought the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was the only place to take a memorable hike in the area? Think again. Gatlinburg, which is literally right outside the national park, is a wonderful place to take a hike, or a short walk, especially around downtown and in the scenic Riverwalk area.

The Smoky Mountains are filled with great opportunities for for getting out and exploring. For many, it’s a must they they stay closer to town for a number of reasons. That doesn’t mean they have to miss out on the natural beauty of the area. Gatlinburg is known as an easily walkable town. So if you get tired or need a break, just stop in one of the many shops and restaurants you pass by. Apart from the downtown Parkway and connecting side streets, the East Parkway at Traffic Light No. 3 is dotted with shops and restaurants for about three miles. As mentioned, the Riverwalk downtown is the perfect place for those looking for picturesque shots of Gatlinburg. It can also be used as a point of emphasis for people coming into town, pointing out attractions, destinations, etc.

The Parkway downtown runs from one end of town to the other and most of it is home to restaurants, local shops, and attractions that stimulate the mind and other senses. Hey, and the Riverwalk is FREE. You don’t need a pass and it doesn’t require an entrance fee, or ask you to purchase something. It’s simply one of the best free things to do in Gatlinburg. The Riverwalk follows the Little Pigeon River as it snakes its way through Gatlinburg, with gazebos and benches found at various points along the way.

Rocky Top Sports World to Target Sports Tourism in Gatlinburg

Around this time next year Sevier County will be planning a summer grand opening for a brand new sports complex.

Titled Rocky Top Sports World, the facility is currently under construction in Gatlinburg and will be open by next June. In all, it will be home to 80 acres of sports fields including a football field for Gatlinburg Pittman High School, as well as for a host of tournaments.

Upon completion of Rocky Top Sports World, seven state-of-the-art synthetic turf fields, six basketball and 12 volleyball courts, plus several championship fields and courts will adorn an 80-acre area

Tuesday morning, leaders from Sevier County and the City of Gatlinburg came together to announce the project and talk about long term economic goals.

Within the first five years of being open, the total economic impact on the area is expected to be $100 million dollars, with more than 400,000 visitors.

Gatlinburg is excited about the added bonus of sports tourism.

“It’s the only industry that actually grew during the recession, so when we began to learn and realize this, we knew it was an opportunity for us to bring in new folks to the area and again not just about Gatlinburg, but the whole of the county,” said Cindy Cameron Ogle, Gatlinburg City Manager

The target date for the grand opening is in June 2014.


Newfound Gap Road Re-Opens a Month Ahead of Schedule

Following a landslide which closed the road for almost three months, Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park which runs from Gatlinburg to Cherokee, NC reopened Monday, April 15 at 10 a.m.

The landslide that occurred during January storms took out a 200-foot section of pavement six miles south of Newfound Gap. The North Carolina section of the road had been closed since January 16.

As a reward for finishing the job a month ahead of a May 15 deadline, Phillips and Jordan Inc. contractors received a $500,000 bonus, funded by the National Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians.

“We recognize the economic importance of the road to our neighboring communities and are grateful that our partners at Federal Highways Administration and were able to respond efficiently to our need and work with the contractors to make the necessary repairs in less than 90 days,” said Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.

The contract awarded to Phillips & Jordan, Inc., totaled nearly $4 million. Included in the contract were incentives of $8,000 per day for early completion.

The final design includes pipes to allow for the drainage of subsurface water flow along with side drainage leading to a culvert at the end of the slope.

In January, heavy rainfall and an underground stream combined to loosen thousands of tons of rock, soil and trees, which slid the length a football field down a slope. Officials said an estimated 9,000 dump truck-loads of dirt, rock and roadway crashed 45-50 feet down the side of the mountain.

Engineers believe a subsurface spring underneath the area was a large factor in causing the landslide. It’s unknown how long the spring had been there. That, combined with the heavy rain that week, caused the collapse. In all, 8 inches of rain fell in the area between Monday and Wednesday the week of January 14.

At the time, it was considered an active landslide because of the continuously flowing springs underneath the road’s surface.

Gatlinburg Meetings & Conventions

The Gatlinburg Convention Center features over 148,000 square feet of meeting and exhibit space and is a popular alternative to the average day-to-day convention center landscape. That, and you’re within a hop, skip, and a jump from downtown Gatlinburg and all the great attractions, shopping opportunities, and restaurants.

Looking to stay on budget and have your meeting go as planned? The Gatlinburg Convention Center is at your service. The services are exceptional, from planning to setting up site inspections and supplying informational brochures, they’re ready to assist you. And the center’s kitchen is fully staffed with an accomplished chef, providing exceptional food, flowers, wine and spirits for groups from 10 to 3,000.

The Great Hall provides 67,000 square feet of exhibit space, 60,000 square feet of which is free-span with a ceiling height of 30 feet. It can accommodate 6,000 people, 350 booths or be divided into three separate halls for smaller events.

In March of 2006, an additional 50,000 square feet was added with the opening of W.L. Mills Conference Center adjoining the Convention Center. This expansion added a beautiful 17,000 square foot Ballroom and allowed us to revitalize our Mills Auditorium, creating a venue that takes your breath away as you enter the room! Both the Ballroom and Mills Auditorium are ideal for any type of event – from a formal banquet or general session, to a themed celebration.

The Convention Center Gallery area is 38,200 square feet, including 18 meeting rooms, pre-function space, two private parlors and a special VIP/media suite.

Meetings in Gatlinburg are enhanced by the wide variety of accommodation options. Gatlinburg is home to numerous Smoky Mountain cabins and chalets. These accommodations are available with a variety of locations: from downtown overlooking the Little Pigeon River, to a mountaintop overlooking the Smoky Mountains to secluded natural surroundings.

No matter what your preference, the Gatlinburg Convention Center can accommodate your needs and desires

Some Smoky Mountain Facilities to Remain Closed This Year

If you’re planning a camping trip in the Smokies this year, make sure the locale you’re looking into is still in operation. This following some recently announced federal budget cuts have some vacationers scrambling to find a new spot to pitch a tent this spring and summer.

These cuts will directly affect a handful of spots in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park this year. Included in these federal budget cuts are a 5 percent reduction in staffing and hiring limitations. This cut will not only hinder some parts of the park from opening on time, but could cut into the days that it will be in operation.

Park officials have already announced that a few popular spots will not open at all this year. Those spots include the Look Rock Campground and picnic area, and the Abrams Creek Campground, which are both located in Tennessee. On the North Carolina side of the Smokies, the Balsam Mountain Campground and picnic area and the Tow String Horse Camp will not open during the 2013 season.

National Park officials have reiterated time and again that the park regrets the inconvenience to all their yearly visitors, especially all who love backcountry camping and make that a yearly reason to trip to the Smokies.

Backcountry reservations, schedules, and permits are still available online at at .

Prescribed Burns Becoming Common in Spring

Don’t jump to conclusions if you see parts of the Smoky Mountains actually smoking this spring. What you’re seeing likely isn’t a forest fire, but a prescribed burn being carried out by the National Park Service to fortify the Smokies from such wildfires and help replenish the majestic landscapes that everyone has come to know and love.

Needless to say, these burns are being carried out by design this spring in the Smokies. Burns like these planned ones are commonplace most years, especially in areas like Cades Cove. It’s just one of the ways that the Cove maintains its lush meadows, which in turn makes it a haven for Smoky Mountain wildlife. If someone is carrying a camera with them in the Townsend, TN area, they’re likely headed to Cades Cove or they’ve already been there.

In fact, there are plans for several intentional burns through the month of May.

In addition to replenishing areas of the park, official said the controlled burns also drastically reduce fuel that can build up and produce wildfires near homes located close tot he national park and help restore diverse tree populations in the forest.

The burns will not only occur in Cades Cove, Wears Valley and Lynn Hollow are scheduled for prescribed burns as weather permits this spring.

Despite these prescribed burns, the Cades Cove Loop Road will remain open, though visitors may experience brief delays because of drifting smoke or safety concerns as firefighter work along the road.

Fire management officer Dave Loveland said 600 acres of fields burned earlier in the cove look great as spring arrives.