Visits to the Smokies Up This Year

For the local economy, the Great Smoky Mountains really are the gift that keeps on giving. And this time of year that’s a really good thing when you’re forecasting the future.

Officials with the Great Smoky Mountains National Park recently released figures that show that visits to the national park are up by nearly 8 percent over last year for the year to date. And with the holiday season in full swing, that trend is more than likely to continue due to the usual “pop” in visits to the area during the holiday season.

Molly Schroer with the national park said November visits to the 500,000-acre park on the Tennessee-North Carolina border totaled 657,935 people. That’s an 8.6 percent jump from November 2011 data and a real good sign for December.

October’s final statistics showed numbers which were slightly ahead of October 2011 numbers and year-to-date visits to the Great Smoky Mountains through last month totaled 9,204,736 people. That’s a 7.8 percent rise looking at numbers from January through November 2011.

Obviously, due to the magnificent fall foliage, October is a big month for visits to the park. The revised figure for that month is 1,133,604.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the most visited park in the contiguous United States. The park is home to over 17,000 species of plants and animals and many leading officials within the field of science and nature believe another 30,000 to 80,000 different types of species live in the Smoky Mountain region.

Talking about plants and animals, some 100 species of native trees can be found flourishing in the Smokies, more than in any other North American national park. Almost 95% of the park is forested, and about 25% of that area is old-growth forest-one of the largest blocks of deciduous, old-growth forests remaining in North America. Over 1,500 flowering plant species can be found here as well. In all, over 200 species of birds, 66 types of mammals, 50 native fish species, 39 varieties of reptiles, and 43 species of amphibians can be found living in the park and such things as millipedes and mushrooms reach record diversity here.

Backcountry Camping Fee Increase for 2013

For anyone planning a camping trip to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 2013, just so you know the backcountry camping fee will increase to $4 person starting in most likely January.

It marks a change in the national park’s backcountry reservation and permitting process.

It’s all for a very worthy and good cause that will benefit all those coming to the national park wanting to stay overnight and observe its majestic beauty up close. All money deriving from the new backcountry fees will go toward improving customer service for backcountry trip planning, making backcountry reservations and applying for permits.

Additional staff will also give the national park the ability to expand backcountry office hours in order to better accommodate all the park’s guests. There will also be greater enforcement of issues such as food storage by park rangers assigned to various portions of the backcountry. These rangers are on patrol each day and look after the well-being of the park and keeping its natural state from harm.

In a move to become more technologically in tune, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park will give backcountry campers the ability to make reservations and obtain permits online through a new web site in cooperation with The site is slated to be available within the first few months of 2013.

Backcountry campers may stay at a campsite for a maximum of three consecutive nights. You may not stay more than one night at any individual shelter. The use of tents at shelters is prohibited. The maximum group size is 8 persons, except at the following campsites where parties of 12 are permitted: 17, 20, 46, 60, 86, and 90. Please note that some campsites have a group size limit of fewer than 8 persons.

The park does not allow pets on backcountry trails. Backpackers and hikers are subject to all Backcountry Rules and Regulations. Failure to abide by park regulations may subject you to a fine under Title 36, Code of Federal Regulations. Maximum fine for each violation is $5,000 and/or 6 months in jail.

Please call the reservations office to cancel any nights or spaces that become available because of changes in your plans.

The Great Smoky Mountains National Park sees near 10 million visitors come through its entrances in Tennessee and North Carolina every year. It’s home to such popular natural spots as Cades Cove, Cataloochee, and Mount LeConte.

Anna Porter Public Library

The Anna Porter Public Library in Gatlinburg is a wonderful place if you’re looking to find out more on the history of Gatlinburg and the Smoky Mountains area, find some compelling guides for the national park, or just simply check out the newest fiction or non-fiction best seller.

In addition to books and other historical materials, the library provides residents and visitors alike with movie rental services, audio book rentals, ebooks, a magazine and newspaper section as well as access to the Internet free of charge.

As mentioned, Gatlinburg’s Anna Porter Public Library is a regional history mecca. Their special collection is ever-growing and currently houses approximately 600 historical items detailing the cultural and natural history of Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountains, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and southern Appalachia. Included in their collection are oral history audio tapes recorded anywhere from 30 to 40 years ago (with transcripts) and more recently recorded oral history video tapes.

Each year, the library holds a number of children-centered initiatives aimed at getting children involved in reading and preparing them for school. Each Saturday, the library has a pre-school story time from 10:30-11:30 am, and Thursdays the library holds a toddlers story time from 10:30-11:30 am.

Other current initiatives include Wednesday beginner computer classes from 10-11 am in the computer center.

To reach the library from downtown Gatlinburg, travel east on US-321N/TN-73N for 3.7 miles, then make a left on Proffitt Rd. The library is connected to the community center.

Anna Porter Public Library
158 Proffitt Rd.
Gatlinburg, TN 37738

Gatlinburg Preps for the Holidays

With Thanksgiving now within ear shot, Gatlinburg is busy putting on its best holiday shoes and jewelry. Or, let’s just say the town has started decorating for Christmas and the holiday season.

If you take a drive downtown you’ll notice that lights and decor have started going up in some places. Of course, River Road and the Parkway gets the most attention with its Santa and festive elf decorations, though many stores downtown have taken it upon themselves to try and outdo each other while keeping with the holiday spirit.

Officials with Gatlinburg have even let some in on a few secrets. One of those happens to be that the town starts decorating before even November. Apparently, October is when those beautiful LED lights start going up all over town. Many miss that part because they’re still staring at the trees and all the fall color.

In all, workers drape the town in more than 3 million holiday lights in various displays and around poles, fences, and buildings downtown. And all these LED lights are environmentally friendly.

And it doesn’t just stop there, the tourism industry – the vital lifeblood of the Smokies, prepares for an always busy holiday season. Smoky Mountain cabin rental companies are booking up fast for the holidays. Businesses like Sugar Maple Cabins, Majestic Mountain Vacations, The Preserve Resort, and Sherwood Forest Resort see reservations really spike over the coming months.

From mid November till Thanksgiving and into December, Christmas, and through new years, families are shuffling in and out of the thousands of Smoky Mountain cabins that line the various ridges and hillsides just outside of town. The year end rush is upon everyone from town employees to area businesses.

To sum it all up, Gatlinburg thrives on this time of year. The bustling of people coming in and out of town, the decorations going up everything, the shopping, the lights…. It’s a season like no other in the Gatlinburg and the Great Smoky Mountains. What are you waiting for?

Mount LeConte Sees Record October

When you hear about snow fall records being broken on places like Mount LeConte in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, most people are going to do a double take, followed by question like: “How much snow was it?”

In all, park officials and the National Weather Service reported that Mount LeConte saw 32 inches of snow as a result of  Superstorm Sandy that hit the east coast extremely hard that week. Now, 32 inches marks a new October record for Mount LeConte, and it’s quite a jump from the previous one which was a mere 6, set in 2010.

It was also reported that Mount LeConte saw drifts as deep as 7 feet.

Now, snow this time of year, and especially in the Great Smoky Mountains, is not uncommon. Many of the area’s highest elevations see snow as early as September. It’s the sheer amount that makes this such a month to remember.

It was also said that LeConte Lodge steered clear of any problems due to the snowfall. LeConte Lodge is the highest guest lodge in the eastern U.S. and there were at least 15 hikers who spent that Monday night at the lodge. Each person was given an extra night stay for free to encourage them not to brave the snow in order to reach their cars.

National Park Visits Up in 2012

The attractions may come and go, seasons will change, and restaurants will open and close, but there’s one thing that stays pretty consistent around here: people want to see the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. They want to experience it, write about it, take pictures, video it, and let others know what great natural attraction it truly is.

How do we know this you ask? It’s all in the numbers. The Great Smoky Mountains National Park showed a nearly 9 percent increase in visitors this year to date. And just as the busy fall foliage season winds to a close, the even busier holiday shopping season gets its wheels turning.

The National Park Service released its figures recently showing that 963,317 people visited the Great Smoky Mountains National Park  in September. This amounts to a 9.2 percent increase over September 2011’s numbers. Will it continue into the holiday season? Most remain optimistic that a busy fall will lead to a just as busy winter with the number of area events, shopping opportunities, and seasonal attractions like Ober Gatlinburg opening even earlier this year.

Looking at the trends, through the first nine months of 2012, visits to the park were up 8.9 percent. That’s 602,000 more people that came to the Smokies this year than in the first three quarters of 2011.

Meanwhile, September is traditionally considered a transitional month that usually sees a dip in national park visits between Labor Day and the beginning of the fall color season in October.

Related links: Take a look at Ober Gatlinburg’s plan for an earlier opening thanks to new snow-making equipment.

Ripley’s and the Gatlinburg Sky Lift Offer Reduced Admission This Week!

Some of the most popular attractions in Gatlinburg will be offering reduced admission this week with the donation of canned foods. All the Ripley’s Gatlinburg attractions as well as the Gatlinburg Sky Lift will be joining in as they celebrate Sevier, Cocke, and Jefferson County Week, November 4-8.

If you’re a resident of Sevier, Cocke, or Jefferson County, you’ll receive $3 off admission to any Ripley’s attraction as well as the Gatlinburg Sky Lift with any canned food donation. All donations will go to benefit the Sevier County Food Ministeries.

So what should you bring? Regular sized cans of food including canned fruit, meats, vegetables, jelly, and baby food.

Stipulations are that people bringing canned goods must live or work in Sevier, Cocke, or Jefferson County to receive the discounted admission. Please bring photo identification as well as proof of residency – a paycheck stub or utility bill.

All attractions are located on the Parkway in Gatlinburg and include Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ripley’s Haunted Adventure, Ripley’s World Records Museum, and the Gatlinburg Sky Lift.

Additional information can be obtained by call 1-888-240-1348 or by going to

Gatlinburg Underground Streetscape Update

Gatlinburg’s Underground Utilities and Streetscape Project recently completed burying all utility and cable lines underground downtown.

Gatlinburg recently gave itself a makeover and the results are eye-popping. What’s being alluded to is Phase VI of the Underground Utilities and Streetscape Project which recently completed, thus burying all utility lines in the downtown Gatlinburg area. What were some travel inconveniences are now looking well worth it.

From the Gatlinburg Convention Center to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park boundary, what you’ll see are some aesthetic upgrades to the Parkway – new streetlights, sidewalks, and all lacking the clutter of utility lines and utility poles.

“We appreciate the patience and cooperation of the business community on the South end of town as well as our residents and visitors,” said Cindy Cameron Ogle, Gatlinburg city manager. “It has been a long, challenging undertaking which has required some sacrifices, a good bit of tolerance and a lot of faith, but I believe everyone can agree that the change in the look and feel of the entire project area is quite dramatic.”

It’s a construction process that began in mid-August 2011 and ran 1,850 feet in length through downtown. It was a rather expansive process that included the construction of underground duct banks to house electrical, telephone and cable lines running both sides of Parkway. The project also called for sewer and water improvements.

The Parkway and Leconte Street steel bridge replacement was one of the more challenging aspects of Phase VI. Part of it also included widening the turning radius from Parkway to Leconte Street.

Those of you who will be coming to Gatlinburg this fall will notice new street lighting, trash receptacles, benches, and signage. Sidewalks have been added and planters have been strategically placed to accommodate seasonal plantings and small trees.

Including design engineering and construction costs of Phase VI, which totaled $7.8 million, both the city and the business community have now invested approximately $24 million in the Underground Utilities and Streetscape Project. This dates back to the late 1990s with the development of the original master plan and the Riverwalk/Ripley’s Aquarium area.

The Underground Utilities and Streetscape Project was a joint effort of the City, the design firm Barge, Waggoner, Sumner and Cannon, Inc., the contractor Efficient Electric, and local utilities involved in the undertaking.

Property owners in the Phase VI area will be assessed 20 percent of the cost, approximately $1.52 million, which may be paid over a 15 year timeframe or on a lump-sum basis.

Attention Skiers, Ober Gatlinburg will feature new snow-making equipment this year!

So what does that mean to all of us who love the wintery sport? That means Ober Gatlinburg is attempting to get ski season started quite a bit earlier this year…. Possibly even by Thanksgiving – that’s the goal.

After a 2011 season that saw no snow for the first time in 27 years at Christmas at the resort, Ober decided to matters into their own hands and up their snow-making abilities. The new equipment purchase allowed them to start making snow in September to hopefully prepare them for any earlier start this year. It’s an investment in Ober Gatlinburg that carries a price tag of over a million dollars.

The system itself – SnowMagic Infinite Crystals Snowmaking (ICS), is the first to be put to use in the Southeast. Now before you go and compare it with the old system, the new SnowMagic ICS system doesn’t require subfreezing temperatures to make snow. Officials with Ober said that the two 50-ton machines are able to create snow crystals in temperatures below 70 degrees. After that, the new snow crystals are carried to the slope via a long flexible tube. Over 24 hours, the machines are able to create 7,000 cubic feet of dense snow.

That said, all this dense snow will go toward making a base for the snow tubing area, which is about a football field size wise. With just the snow made by the ICS system, there should be enough in 45 days to open the snow tubing area.

Getting to Ober Gatlinburg this fall and winter: Planning a trip to Ober Gatlinburg? You have two options of getting up there. You can either ride the aerial tramway (which happens to be the largest aerial tramway in America) from downtown Gatlinburg or you can drive up the mountain on Ski Mountain Road. Simply turn at traffic light No. 9 on the south end of Gatlinburg (closest to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park) and follow the winding road (Ski Mountain Road) all the way to the top…just have cash ready to park. The earlier you go, the better. The are three tiers of parking lots and if you get there early, you have a better shot at getting a parking spot at the top near the resort. Otherwise, it’s a short hike from the lower parking lots, but the locals call that the warmup!

As always, if you don’t have your own skis or gear, don’t worry! You can rent everything you need at the Ober Gatlinburg gear store. They have clothing and gear available for rental in a variety of sizes, for both kids and adults!

The Gatlinburg Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers… For Sale to the Right Person

A Passion for Collecting Salt and Pepper Shakers turned into much more for the Luddens, and now might just be for sale.

According to Kristen Morales with the Knoxville News Sentinel, Gatlinburg’s Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is currently for sale, but only to the right buyer.

The museum opened nearly 10 years ago, and today have more than 20,000 pairs of salt and pepper shakers on display throughout the premises.

“In the beginning of the ’80s we went to swap meets and flea markets – actually, we started with (pepper) grinding mills,” Rolf Ludden said. “After a while my wife started to fall in love with the shakers.”

Step into the museum and before you lies a world of travels, history and cartoon characters constructed for the purpose of dispensing condiments. Categories, such as the type of material used to make them, the type of animal or person they depict, or the place they represent separate the hundreds of thousands lining the shop.

On any given day, visitors can peruse the woodland creatures or barnyard animals or plastic household items from the 1950s. There are ceramic corn figures with grimacing faces. Angels, devils and miniature fried eggs. Chubby babies and chubby chefs. Donkeys – some pulling carts, some without.

International and domestic locales separate a section of shakers from around the world.

Domestically, Ludden said the states with the biggest treasure trove of shakers lie along the rust belt: Indiana, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Michigan.

“In the 1900s there were big factories,” he said. “When the Depression came, the factories that made dishes didn’t have any orders, so they started to do smaller items like salt and pepper shakers.”

Shaker production moved to Japan following the 1930s – first occupied Japan, then Japan, then China.

“But the creativity is from here,” he noted. “That’s the interesting thing about it. My wife is an archaeologist and that’s where she decides – on the creativity. It’s so interesting to see all the different things.”

Today, the museum and the family’s artistic endeavors are a joint effort. Rolf and Andrea have two grown children who are artists in their own right and also have a love for the quirky salt and pepper shakers they’ve grown up around.

Courtesy of the Knoxville News Sentinel

But for as much as they love the shakers, Rolf and Andrea have been working a long time, and they admit they would like to retire, at some point.

So, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers is up for sale – to the right person.

In an innocuous note posted among the display cases, Andrea writes how the family would sell the museum to the right person, one who can take it “to the next stop.”

Rolf puts it more plainly.

“We are not in a hurry,” he said. “We want the museum to stay, (for someone) to keep it going. One day we want to retire.”

Rolf and Andrea’s daughter, also named Andrea, said the family wants to devote some time to their new museum, too. On May 21, a sister museum to the Gatlinburg attraction opened in Spain.

“We opened another one in Spain, and we don’t want to feel too spread,” said daughter Andrea, who makes jewelry with her father and travels around the country selling pieces at art shows. “That’s why I wouldn’t mind it if it’s someone who has a passion for salt and pepper shakers. We’ve already invested seven years of our lives to bring it to fruition. It has to continue; there’s no other option.”

Whether the museum stays in the family or is sold to another salt and pepper shaker lover, Andrea said she’ll always carry her parents’ love of the items. While she doesn’t have a favorite – there are just too many, she says – she does favor the retro-themed plastic ones, like the miniature fried eggs.

“We’re a very close-knit family,” she said, and she notes that she and her brother always appreciated the salt and pepper shakers.

“I don’t think we were given an option.”