Eastern Tennessee encourages tourists to return after wildfires

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Old Mill, Pigeon Forge, Tenn.
The Old Mill in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

Tourism officials in Pigeon Forge, the vacation destination in eastern Tennessee and home to the Dollywood theme park, are encouraging tourists to visit and support the region in the wake of wildfires that ignited in the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park on Monday night.

News media reported that thousands had to flee the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge this week as wildfires tore through the Great Smoky Mountains, scorching hundreds of buildings and leaving 13 people dead.

But as of Thursday, the area's many attractions, theatres, restaurants and accommodations are operating as usual, according to officials.

"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg, come back and visit us," Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said in a statement. Gatlinburg is considered a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

"Many of our city's 6,000 residents, as well as those of our friends and family in Gatlinburg, are dependent on the tourism industry for jobs to care for themselves and their families," said Leon Downey, Pigeon Forge's executive director of tourism.

Pigeon Forge's Winterfest festival is continuing as scheduled, including several Christmas shows at various theaters.

The Dollywood theme park suspended operations on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, but is resuming normal operations on Dec. 2 at 2 p.m. In the wake of the fires, resort staff evacuated families in 50 rooms staying at Dollywood's DreamMore Resort and families staying in 19 cabins at Dollywood's Smoky Mountain Cabins.

Country singer Dolly Parton this week announced that a fund to assist the families affected by the Smoky Mountain wildfires was being established by the Dollywood Company and the Dollywood Foundation, and will provide $1,000 each month for six months to Sevier County families who lost their homes.

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