The Lodge at Buckberry Creek gets ready to open first building after Gatlinburg fires


GATLINBURG (WATE) – After the Lodge at Buckberry Creek was destroyed in the November fires in Gatlinburg, owners promised they would rebuild.

Six months after the fires, lodge owner Buddy McLean and designer Jeanie Johnson are weeks away from reopening the only building left at the lodge. Finishing touches are being completed to repairs as vacationers have booked suites for “the Woods” building, which offers a picturesque view of the Smokies from the comfort of classic rocking chairs.

Previous story: Owners of destroyed Gatlinburg lodge: ‘We’ll be back’

Other buildings that once made up the sprawling complex are a long way off from being rebuilt. However, designer Jeanie Johnson is looking forward to the day when reconstruction begins in earnest.

“The vision here is you can see the existing retaining walls. Love of love, we would love to build back what we had built here with the same Adirondack style attitude,” said Johnson.

Jeanie Johnson shows existing retaining walls

McLean, who developed the lodge with his brother in 2005, says engineers have checked the standing walls and declared them structurally okay. The plan is to build each new building higher.

“We’re planning to keep the retaining walls just like they are. The other idea is we would probably go up a story, which would give us more suites,” said McLean.

Buddy McLean sits in a rocking chair. It is one of the only things made of wood that survived the fire. McLean says it will have a special place after the lodge is reopened.

Six months ago, as staff looked at the ruins of the once luxurious Lodge, an overwhelming feeling took over. How long will the cleanup take? How could all of this ever be rebuilt? It was their customers who gave them encouragement.

“We have said, we’ll send back your deposits,” said Johnson, “but some people have said, please leave it for the rebuild, we want to be part of that.”

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek once housed 100 guests in 42 rooms. Each suite had a balcony. Guests could walk from their room or meeting rooms to the lodge restaurant. Over the the last six months, the process of rebuilding first the electrical system and then other infrastructure has been painstakingly slow.

“It’s not quick up here. You think you are going to put electricity in, then you find the old wires and they’re no good,” said McLean. “Or plumbing and then you can’t find the right pipes because they’re melted. So, you start all over again.”

McLean is grateful that Johnson had safely stored legal documents and design work making it easier for insurance adjusters to help with the rebuild.

Walking along the property

“It will take us about a year and a half to rebuild, but the truth of it is the mountains weren’t ever affected,” said McLean. “It will be fun again. It can’t be anything else. I’m a half full person: that glass is always half full.”

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek said they will be back. They can’t wait for the “No Trespassing” sign and the temporary gate to be removed.

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