Sugarlands to Undergo Renovations

Sugarlands Visitor Center in Gatlinburg is getting a facelift, of sorts. In actuality, its lobby and visitor contact area are being renovated in order to improve the layout of the building’s main space.

That doesn’t mean you can’t still stop by as officials said the building would remain open through March 31, when the project is scheduled to be completed.

For the visitors center, it will be a welcome change to the building’s aesthetics, “many of whom find the current museum entrance to be difficult to locate,” said Molly Schroer, park spokesperson. “This renovation will alleviate that problem.”

Interactive exhibits will enhance park information for all visitors coming into Sugarlands. The center’s lighting system will be overhauled, as well as the information desk and the building’s overall accessibility. The aforementioned interactive exhibits in the lobby will highlight the park’s recent natural resource challenges, such as forest health and air quality.

Constructed in 1960, the Sugarlands Visitors Center sees thousands of park visitors come through its doors every year. Until 2011, when the Oconaluftee Visitor Center was constructed, Sugarlands was the only visitor center in the Great Smoky Mountains that was built specifically as a visitor center.

Park rangers provide the public with educational programs at Sugarlands Visitors Center including talks surrounding the park’s first settlers, edible wild plants that grow along the trails, or a simple GSMNP history lesson. The talks and presentations are specifically developed for Sugarlands by the Park Service. One good move might be to contact the visitors center before coming to the park to see what programs are running during your specified trip.

Another reason to visit Sugarlands is if you plan staying overnight in the Great Smoky Mountains at a campground or backcountry site. Not only can you make reservations at one of the park’s campgrounds, Sugarlands is an ideal place to make lodging plans for one of the park’s backcountry shelters. Each backcountry shelter must be reserved as they are managed by the park service. For anyone planning an overnight trip on one of the trails, make plans to stay in one of the shelters. Any of the Sugarlands park rangers will be able to help you out with that process.

Construction work will occur between 2 – 11 p.m. daily, Monday through Friday, through the end of March. During construction, the natural history museum portion of the visitor center will be closed. All other services, including general information, the park film, and the bookstore will be open.

Ober Gatlinburg Turns 50

There’s a BIG birthday to celebrate this year, but it isn’t just anyone in particular’s birthday. It’s Ober Gatlinburg’s, and the popular ski resort is turning a very robust 50 and looking even better with age.

With Sunday at Ober Gatlinburg being the first day of ski season after opening day was pushed back a few weeks, now’s an even better time to experience one of Gatlinburg’s most popular attractions.

Skiers were anxious to hit the slopes this year after 2012 when Ober was forced to close early due to unseasonably warm weather.

In all seriousness, 50 never looked better on anyone than it did at Ober this past weekend. With all the new snow, skiers no matter the age and experience, were slipping and sliding on the fresh slopes. The recent low temperatures made for some great new snowmaking.

Ober officials said with the amount of snow making equipment, and the conditions, three slopes were open on the first day which made for a busy afternoon and night. December 10 is what Ober usually shoots for every year as an opening date. With just a few weeks behind their target, guests seemed pleased despite the late opening.

Ober provides a much needed burst of economic productivity for the area to go along with the holiday tourism season.

As previously mentioned, Sunday marked the start of Ober’s 50th ski season and the day’s turnout couldn’t have been better. Over 1,000 skiers skied Ober’s slopes between its two sessions Sunday. A busy 2013 looks to be on the horizon.

*Ober Gatlinburg offers 9 trails for their guests from beginners to expert skiers. They are also equipped should you not have your own skis or snowboard. Their rental fleet contains 1,800 pairs of shaped skis and 400 snowboards, and the staff is more than happy to get you set up and ready to hit the slopes. Renting at Ober doesn’t just mean skis and snowboards, you can also rent ski pants, jackets, and helmets. They’ve really got you covered.

Today is the LAST DAY to Recycle Your Christmas Tree in Gatlinburg!

Today is the LAST DAY folks to recycle your Christmas Tree. Let Gatlinburg take care of your tree instead of dragging it down to the curb and waiting for it to be picked up for weeks, or even months sometimes. In return, you might even get something you didn’t expect but will leave you smiling regardless.

Today, Thursday Jan. 3, 2013, is the last day that the city of Gatlinburg will offer its annual Christmas tree exchange. Anyone who wants to bring their Christmas tree to the city greenhouse from 3-5 p.m. will in turn receive a late Christmas gift from the city in the form of a pecan, bald cypress or tulip poplar tree. Sort of a tree for a tree to plant on your own and watch grow.

The city greenhouse is located next to the Gatlinburg Community Center at 156 Proffitt Road.

Each tree will be recycled and put to good use, mulched up, and put through a chipper. The mulch is then used to fertilize the ground around city plants.

This is now a program that has been ongoing for 10 years now and continues every year right after New Years. Anyone who does not want to participate in the exchange, but still wants to drop their Christmas tree off can still do so at the greenhouse any time until Tuesday, Jan. 8.

For those who live closer to Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, Christmas trees also can be dropped off for recycling at the Pigeon Forge Community Center parking lot through Friday, Jan. 4. Or, if you’d just assume to leave your tree at the curb, Sevier County Public Works officials report that they will be by to pick up trees left outside by city garbage customers this year. Those trees will also be mulched at the Sevier County Solid Waste facility.

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.

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.