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The Mountains are Calling: 5 Ideas for Your Next Trip to Gatlinburg/Pigeon Forge (Bonus: 2 Ways to Help Recovery Efforts from Home)

Posted on Mon, Apr 24, 2017 @ 02:12 PM

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"A lot of people come in and they believe there may not be a Gatlinburg at all to come to. A lot canceled vacations,” says local business owner Eric Hensley in USA Today in March. Gatlinburg businessman Ken Kooch adds that much of the reporting on the November wildfires in Sevier County makes it sound like everything is gone.

But in fact, the majority of attractions, restaurants, lodging and even the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sustained minimal damage. As Jim Gaines reports in the Knoxville News-Sentinel, “though hundreds of cabins in the wooded hills were lost -- about 2,400 structures burned county-wide -- all the major attractions survived, and most hotels came through with no or partial damage.”

As a result, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are working hard to counter images and news stories focusing on the destruction. Travel planning websites such as Gatlinburg.com and Mypigeonforge.com assure potential visitors that shops, restaurants and hotels are open and ready for business. A handy travel map on the Mypigeonforge.com home page makes it easy to see that Pigeon Forge is easily accessible from many US cities (scroll to the green map and city chart).

Tourism is critical to the Sevier County area. According to Nashville Public Radio, “Gatlinburg is a city of just 4,000 full-time residents, but it has about 12 million visitors each year. Officials say the industry accounts for nearly three-quarters of the city's jobs and brought in $620 million in tax revenue last year.” Pigeon Forge, with about 6,000 residents, has about 10 million annual visitors.

Lots to See and Do

  1. Festivals and events happen year-round from the Gatlinburg Beans and Cornbread Festival in May to Pigeon Forge’s Winterfest to Tennessee Smokies minor-league baseball games in nearby Kodak. Find dates and details about these and other events in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge
  2. Attractions abound including Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, arts and crafts shopping in Gatlinburg, Ober Gatlinburg resort and others (check out Trip Advisor’s top 10 and “hidden gems” lists for more ideas). John D. Ivanko’s two-part article on Gatlinburg eco-tourism on Mother Earth News’s blog highlights activities including guided nature treks, birding, zip lining, fly fishing and locally-sourced cuisine.
  3. Great Smoky Mountains National Park has something for everyone: hiking, camping, fishing, ranger-led walks, historic cabins, wildflowers and even auto touring. The park’s four visitor centers are good starting points to talk with a ranger, get a map or see a schedule of events.
  4. A total solar eclipse will happen on August 21, 2017, when the moon will pass between the earth and the sun. The eclipse will be visible along a 67-mile wide path across part of the United States, including the western portion of Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Viewing spots in the park include Cade’s Cove and the Oconaluftee Visitor Center.
  5. This year marks the 40th anniversary of Smoky Mountain Field School, a series of non-credit courses taught by experts in ecology, natural history, biology and environmental stewardship. This joint program of the University of Tennessee and Great Smoky Mountains National Park includes indoor workshops and outdoor exploration. You can see the full course catalog and register online at the Field School website.

Or, Help Without Leaving Home

  1. Donations are still being accepted for the Sevier County Community Fund and the Gatlinburg Relief Fund. Learn about both of these at the Mountain Tough Recovery Team website.
  2. Your shopping dollars support local businesses in Gatlinburg even when you buy online. This handy guide to shopping in Gatlinburg includes arts and crafts galleries, specialty foods, jewelry, clothing, hiking and fishing gear, and more. Many shops have websites for ordering or take orders by phone.

As they say in Sevier County, the mountains are calling. The message? We’re still here, so come on and visit.

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Tags: wildfire recovery, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge

The Help You Need for Long-term Wildfire Recovery in Sevier County

Posted on Thu, Apr 13, 2017 @ 02:22 PM

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Photo credit: Andrew Nelles / The Tennessean

 

Spend a few minutes reading about the effects of November’s wildfires in Sevier County, Tennessee and you’ll quickly realize there's far more to the damage than destroyed buildings. Even after food, water and shelter are distributed, wide-spread wildfires lead to personal, social and economic challenges that outlast the flames. These include homelessness, bankruptcies, unemployment and traumatized survivors left with the little they grabbed as they fled. 

Organizations like the Red Cross, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and the local Rotary work tirelessly to address immediate victim needs. However, as time passes, efforts shift from urgent relief services to long-term recovery, which could take months or years. As time marches on, it’s easy to be overwhelmed by various resources and relief programs. Is FEMA money still available? What about state funds? Any private organizations willing to help? 

To help you keep track, we’re highlighting a selection of available resources and programs. We also encourage you to check the following sites regularly:

You can also sign up for text alerts from the Mountain Tough Recovery Team or call 2-1-1 for assistance. 

The following is a selection of available resources and may change at any time. Keep up to date by checking the websites below.

Clean-up and Housing Resources

Financial Support

  • The Dolly Parton Foundation’s My People Fund raised over $9 million to help families whose primary residences (owned or rented) were destroyed by the fires. The fund distributes $1000 per family for up to six months. Details and distribution dates are online.
  • The U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) offers low-interest Economic Injury Loans for businesses, homeowners and renters. For disaster damage to private property that's not fully covered by insurance, apply for an SBA disaster loan by September 15, 2017.
  • In March, Governor Haslam signed a law to allow “prorating the 2016 tax assessment for a homeowner’s real property or a business owner’s personal property if the property was damaged by 50 percent or more. If 2016 taxes were already paid, those people would get a refund,” according to ABC affiliate WATE in Knoxville. Apply by June 30, 2017.
  • Financial counselors from HOPE Coalition America are available at First Tennessee Bank in Sevierville to help with questions about emergency budget and credit management, insurance claims, replacing legal documents, assistance agencies and more. Call 1-888-388-4673 for information.

Employment

  • The Mountain Tough Recovery Team’s website links to employment opportunities with the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville and Sevier County. Information on county disaster unemployment assistance is also available.
  • A National Dislocated Worker Grant from the U.S. Department of Labor funds jobs for workers dislocated by the wildfires. According to the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development, the jobs (with employers Sevier County, the city of Gatlinburg, Sevierville Solid Waste Inc., Sevier County Humane Society and the National Park Service) focus on clean-up efforts around Gatlinburg. Jobs could last through December 2017. Apply or learn more at the American Jobs Center in Sevierville, or call 865-286-6378.

Counseling and Crisis Support

After a wildfire, psychological distress is common, including post-traumatic stress, anxiety, depression and difficulty sleeping. “Everybody needs to talk about it … We can’t ignore that this happened … The more we talk about this individually and as a community, that helps everyone heal,” says psychologist Dr. John Kupfner, quoted in a WATE story in March 2017.

  • If you or someone you know is experiencing distress from the fires, contact the Tennessee Recovery Project at 865-255-6716. This crisis counseling program is funded by a FEMA grant to provide emotional support and education for disaster survivors in Tennessee.
  • Help is also available through the Disaster Distress Helpline, a national crisis counseling hotline for people experiencing emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster. Call 800-985-5990.

Legal Assistance and Documents

Wildfire recovery is a long journey that looks and feels different for each person. Following up with these and other resources can help start you on your way.

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Tags: Sevier County, wildfire recovery