Recently I had the wonderful opportunity to take my wife on a weekend trip up to Gatlinburg. We have been a number of times, but this was my first time back since the wildfires. I did not know what to expect. Would the whole place look burned down? Would everything look black? Would there even be a town?
We got into town late at night, but were greeted by the bright lights of the downtown Gatlinburg strip. Driving along River Road toward our hotel, Bearskin Lodge on the River, we didn’t see anything that reminded of us of fire.
Now the next morning? Sure. That’s when you can look up the side of the steep hill along River Road and see some burned structures. Driving up into the hills around town, you can see a lot or building here and there succumbed to the deadly blaze.
There are trees burned. There are vestiges of lost homes. There are signs of destruction.
You know what else there is? Grass growing. Plants blooming. People working. A community rebuilding.
Driving up into the Smoky Mountains, my wife and I were REALLY looking hard to see signs of burned mountain – a morbid curiosity kind of thing. But honestly, mostly what we saw was the same thing we always see when we visit Gatlinburg – just thousands and thousands of acres of beautiful mountain.
You’ve no doubt heard about the telethons, with country music stars donating their time to help raise millions of dollars to help the people of Gatlinburg get back on their feet. And that’s great – many people who lost their homes are being helped to rebuild.
But not everyone who lives in Gatlinburg is a home owner. Many of them are renters who also lost everything they owned. They are the people who work in the restaurants and shops and entertainment attractions in Gatlinburg – the hard working people who keep the town running. Tourism is the lifeblood of Gatlinburg, and these are the people who make it happen. They are also the ones struggling the most.
We talked to a waitress at a popular barbecue restaurant downtown who told us about how scared she was the night of the fires, trying to get home through the smoky haze. But her fear now has nothing to do with fire – it’s about how slow business has been at the restaurant. It’s about how her income has declined – about trying to survive financially while Gatlinburg recovers.
We talked to the owner of a little fine art store in the arts and crafts area of town who said that business had declined immensely since the fires. The decline in tourism has also meant a decline in customers for the local shops.
So what do THESE people need?
They need you.
They need you to come back into town. They need you to eat in Gatlinburg. They need you to shop. They need you to stay a night or two. They need you to buy something.
So what can you do to help Gatlinburg REALLY come back is to just come into town. Gatlinburg is still here. The mountains are still here. It’s all right here waiting for you.
Call us today. We’ll book you a room.