GATLINBURG, TN – On 23 November 2016, tourists reported that they saw smoke near the Chimney Tops trailhead in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Park authorities immediately investigated and discovered fire in the area.
Although the region was experiencing severe drought conditions, officials believed a natural containment area would keep the fire from spreading.
Unfortunately, the following day mountain winds increased to hurricane levels of 80+ miles per hour. The strong winds and drought conditions were perfect for creating an out of control wildfire. The wildfire spread quickly, and eventually burned more than 10,000 acres inside the park and another 6,000 acres outside the park.
In the nearby towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, officials announced a mandatory evacuation as the wildfire approached. For some, it was too late. Fourteen people lost their lives trying to get out.
In addition, the wildfire destroyed more than 2,400 homes and businesses in and around Gatlinburg. Most of the damage was to houses. Only a handful of businesses burned.
Gatlinburg is Open for Business
Nearly five months after the fire, the residents of Gatlinburg want you to know that they are resilient and they are determined to come back stronger than ever.
Many vacationers are wondering if Gatlinburg is open for business; should families and friends continue to plan a mountain vacation? Enthusiastically, the answer is, “Yes!”
While Gatlinburg lost many homes and businesses, the fires spared nearly all of the downtown tourist area. Housing for residents remains a challenge, but they are working through it. Hotels and motels, cabins, attractions and shows, and restaurants are open and ready to welcome guests.
What would really help is for vacationers to come and enjoy the attractions and shows of Gatlinburg just as they have always done. The economy needs an influx of spending, and tourists bring that much needed capital.
We drove through Gatlinburg in the last few weeks, and while we could see damage on the mountains, the downtown area looked fantastic. Ann snapped the photograph at the top of this article from the car window.
The residents of Gatlinburg and the surrounding areas all want you to come and have a great time. They are open for business, and ready to make your vacation one to remember.
Great Smoky Mountains National Park
Park Rangers report that due to the wildfires they have closed several trails until further notice; however, most of the park remains unscathed. Of the 817 square miles inside the park, the fire affected only 15 square miles.
Map of Smokies Wildfire Area | ©Ann Bowman
Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains a beautiful forest. Hundreds of miles of trails are open. The campgrounds will remain open according to normal schedules. Cades Cove is still as captivating as ever.
We visited with the owners of Sugarlands Riding Stable last week and they are running wide open.
Gatlinburg is open and ready. The Smokies are calling. Are you listening? We’re waiting for you.