On November 28th, 2016 a small fire that originated in the Chimney Tops of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park sprung out of control when the humidity dropped and wind speeds increased — at one point possibly reaching 87 m.p.h. in certain locations. These wind speeds, extremely dry conditions, and downed power lines throwing sparks created the worst possible conditions — conditions that allowed embers to be thrown and rekindled up to a mile away from their origin, thereby claiming 15-thousand acres, hundreds of structures, and several lives.
And while damage has occurred to much of Sevier County, including Gatlinburg, Downtown Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smoky Mountains themselves, there’s still hope that this great area will rebuild and continue to showcase its beauty and its strength. During a press conference on November 30, 2016, Gatlinburg’s Mayor, Mike Warner (who, himself, lost both his home and his business), said this about how you can help Gatlinburg:
“We’re going to be ok. That’s our message: we’re going to be ok. And if you really, really want to do something for Gatlinburg — we’re going to back on our feet in just a real short time — come and visit us. Come back and vacation here. Come back and stay in our hotels, and our condos, and our chalets, and eat in our restaurants and enjoy our attractions…” – Gatlinburg Mayor, Mike Warner
Making sure that the people — local residents, the visitors, and all of the first responders and firefighters — are ok has always been and will remain this community’s number-one priority. However, this positive message of hope, for a town that many across the nation hold dear, is uplifting and comforting. Here are some ways you can help Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and the Smokies bounce back from this devastating disaster:
#1 Visit the Smokies This Winter
Wintertime in the Smokies boasts amazing opportunities for holiday events, holiday shows, family-friendly events, live music, outdoor activities (including skiing at Ober Gatlinburg), the famous Dollywood theme park, and so much more. Just be sure to call ahead (or check the business’ website) to ensure that your desired activity or event is still open or scheduled as planned. As for hiking in the Smokies, the park itself is currently closed, so it’s best to wait for clearance that fires are extinguished and trailheads are open. Check out the Smoky Mountain Calendar of Events or discover which of the top holiday shows in the Smokies you’d like to see. We hope to see you back in the area the following year, at any time of the year!
#2 Donations and Charitable Giving
Local East Tennessee and regional Tennessee businesses are doing their best to help those in need. A few banks and grocery stores are providing support funds to distribute donations, corporate contributions, and matched donations, and a wide range of other businesses and organizations (from retail stores, elementary schools, and animal shelters) are serving as collection points for goods, as well as future planning options for those who have been affected most in the fires. You can read those lists at Knoxville News Sentinel and WVLT Local 8 News.
Due to the outpouring of charitable support, the American Red Cross of East Tennessee is asking for a pause on “in-kind” donations, or in other words, a pause on the donation of physical goods and services themselves (i.e. clothes, toiletries, etc.). Monetary donations are still being generously accepted, and are ideal as they help the Red Cross of East Tennessee use the funds where they are needed most. You can donate online, by mail, or by text message.
American Red Cross: According to WBIR, the “Red Cross is not looking for untrained volunteers, but is accepting monetary donations at this time.
Humane Shelters: The Sevier County Humane Society is offering safe refuge for lost pets, as well as help for families that need assistance taking care of their pet while they get back on their feet. Monetary donations are the top priority moving forward, but volunteers can email firstname.lastname@example.org with their name, cell phone number, and availability. Wate 6 News has more information on how to donate, volunteer, or seek help for your pet(s).
Great Smoky Mountains National Park: Once the Great Smoky Mountains National Park is reopened, park staff may be looking for volunteers to help with trail maintenance and more. You can visit the National Parks Service page for volunteer opportunities in the Smokies, to find a schedule of events and more.
The City of Gatlinburg: Volunteers are always needed in various positions throughout the year, and your charitable giving of time in one of these capacities may help residents resume normal aspects of their lives. Here are a few volunteer opportunities near Gatlinburg, TN, as well as another way to find more information about volunteering in Gatlinburg.
We Hope You Come Back to Visit
While we are all grieving over the losses of this situation, we do believe in what Mayor Mike Warner said: “We’re going to be back on our feet. We’re going to be ok.” We can do it with the combined efforts of the community and outreach from those who have all called the Smoky Mountains home — even if just for a week or two. So, when it’s time to schedule your next vacation — no matter what time of the year — we hope you choose to come stay in Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, in the Sevier County, or elsewhere in the Smoky Mountains region.