New Anakeesta development still on track after Gatlinburg wildfires

GATLINBURG (WATE) – Homeowners, business owners and the entire Gatlinburg community continues to rebuild and push forward. November’s wildfire destroyed thousands of acres, but despite that, one business not even open yest is still on track with their development.

The 70-acre Anakeesta project will bring retail space and outdoor activities to downtown Gatlinburg, just across the street from Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies. On Wednesday, crews were at the top of the mountain installing towers in the ground for the development’s zip line. While they initially wanted to open in May, they’re still going full speed ahead.

Previous story: Large new development in the works in Gatlinburg

“We’ve pushed that back a few weeks,” said Bob Bentz with Anakeesta.

Time is the only pushback after the wildfire.

“When we got to the top of the mountain the first time, honestly it was a shock. We had worked very diligently to literally preserve and save every tree on our mountain, work all the roads around these trees and in three hours of time many of those trees were gone,” said Bentz.

Over the last few weeks, crews have cleared out much of the dead brush, branches and trees that were burned.

“We’ve got some new great views. So we took what would be a bad thing, we’re turning into a very positive thing,” Bentz said.

They’re thankful underground work finished in July was untouched by the fire, so opening in early June is just a small shift.

“Got to be resourceful, you’ve got to pick up the pieces and move forward. When one door closes, another one opens,” he said.

On the southern side of the mountain, plans are being drawn up to install irrigation tools – that’s the area with the most severe damage – in case there’s ever another wildfire. The developers also plan to create a “Forest Memorial Walk” as a way to remember the damage the wildfires caused and give people a chance to see trees damaged and still charred that won’t grow back.

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