GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Almost 11 months since the wildfires swept through the Smoky Mountains and parts of Gatlinburg, the seasons continue to change and another autumn is among us.
In those mountains, falling leaves usually bring rising visitors which is not only a desire for the locals this year, but a must.
At Bearskin Lodge on the River, manager Lee Douglas says after 11 months, things are starting to feel “normal” again, and that is a word they have been searching for.
“This year it seems to be a lot more like normal. We’ve gotten a good start to the fall season, and today it feels like fall outside,” Douglas said.
As the colors drift down the mountains, between the peaks dotted with foliage are blank spaces still charred. It is evidence of a more trying time, and it does not go unnoticed.
“I didn’t know it was quite this far,” Harold Black from Indiana reacted.
Maddy Zygadlo from Nashville was curious as they stepped out to take in the view. “I was just wondering how it was going to look after because you can tell like right over here it definitely hit pretty bad.”
Renee Pitre came from Ontario and was made aware of the wildfires through research for their trip. “I was a bit concerned thinking that it would lessen the amount of colors that we would see,” she said.
There have been droves of cars so far this month and people lining up to take pictures even on a cold cloudy overlook. It is proof there is plenty still bringing people to the Smokies and the city at the foothills.
“Of course everyone got a slow start to the year, but I think we’ve progressed terrifically since then, and now we’re definitely on track to continue to have a good year,” Douglas said.
Despite the wildfires last year was a record breaking year in the Smokies with more than 11.3 million people visiting the national park, and the first half of this year makes it seem on track to meet or beat that this year.
October is historically the second busiest month of the year, and the city of Gatlinburg says the park’s 11 million visitors per year translates to 10 million within the city.
“We have five properties in our organization, three of which are here in Gatlinburg and then two are in Pigeon Forge. It’s definitely good for all five properties,” Douglas said.
Locals expect flourishing foliage around the last week of this month to be another big help.
“Everyone was like, ‘Oh we want to know how it’s changed,’ and it hasn’t from what we’ve seen,” Zygadlo remarked.
Douglas said, “The biggest thing for us is trying to continue to move forward, not reliving anything. It’s nice when we don’t have people who come in a talk about it anymore.”