The Lodge At Buckberry Creek

The rocking chair by definition is an ordinary chair set atop rockers to provide relaxation while it moves back and forth. One could only imagine the countless hours of relaxation provided by rocking chairs, however no one would imagine the role a single rocking chair would have following the Gatlinburg Wildfires of 2016.

At the end of World War II, the newly incorporated town of Gatlinburg was starting to buzz again. The McLean Family often journeyed from Knoxville to take in the magnificence of the mountains and the people making this promising place unique.  In 1945 with a dream to open a hotel, the McLean family purchased 180 mountainside acres. The family granted 80 of those acres to the National Park  providing a roadway which is today the Gatlinburg Bypass. There were many developments to those purchased acres with the most infamous 26.6 acres gaining life in 2005 with a creekside pavilion, five buildings and numerous rocking chairs.

With generations of love for these Mountains it was an exciting time for Buddy McLean, his brother James and longtime friend & designer,  Jeanie Johnson as they embarked on sharing these mountains with the world. The quest to merge past with present took them to the research the ElkmontCommunity of the Great Smoky Mountains and the great camps of the Adirondack Mountains in New York. 

Just like the back and forth of a rocking chair, those great camps mixed a back in time enjoyment of getting away in the outdoors with the forward time enjoyment of luxurious bedding, fine dining and social prominence.

The labor of love that began in 2003 was realized as the Adirondack style met Southern Charm in 2005 at the opening of The Lodge at Buckberry Creek.

The first year, The Lodge at Buckberry Creek welcomed guests to 44 well appointed, luxury suites inviting them to embrace the natural surroundings. Guests enjoyed walking to the Creekside pavilion along the hiking trail, relaxing in a rocking chair while gazing at the breathtaking view of Mt. LeConte and ending the day with exquisitely prepared fine dining. Attention to detail was given each suite, extensive training to every staff member, from the moment a guest pulled onto the property it was purposed to meet their every need. 

Their mission accomplished and recognized as the year closed with the prestigious AAA 4-Diamond being awarded to these good stewards of mountain legacy. Buddy reflected on this moment stating it was”an Overwhelming Acceptance of Our Vision”.

The Lodge at Buckberry Creek was the first in Gatlinburg to receive this award and have achieved it annually since 2005.

That vision grew to The Lodge at Buckberry Creek becoming the premier resort of Gatlinburg hosting events for the National Park Service and their dignitaries. They welcomed 2nd Century Park Commissioners; Sandra Day O’Connor and Howard Baker during the anniversary of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. There would be many national, local & state dignitaries as well as numerous celebrities enjoying the Lodge, but the most special to Buddy, Jeanie and James was the opportunity to host Casting for Recovery, a joint effort with 25 volunteers to grant 14 ladies a weekend of Buckberry, Fly Fishing and the Great Smoky Mountains during a difficult time in their life. The Lodge was the first in the state to host this special event and continued the tradition for 10 years. Buddy said,” It was an honor to be a small part”. The ladies enjoyed sitting in the rocking chairs by the fire making s’mores, learning to cast a fly rod on the front lawn and embracing the history of the memorabilia within the main lodge. 

Each day at the Lodge at Buckberry Creek was a continuation of the legacy birthed in 1945. Seventy-one years of McLean family heritage, twelve years of welcoming the world to sit in a rocking chair at this mountain paradise would all change in one hour of time. At approx. 8 pm on Monday, November 28, 2016 the fire that started over a week prior in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park reached the Lodge at Buckberry Creek in Gatlinburg.  With hurricane force winds reaching 90 miles per hour, the fire storm engulfed the property. The decisive actions of Event Manager Ellie Morgan and Executive Chef Jason Milanich resulted in the safe evacuation of all guests and staff.  The priceless family heirlooms, historical memorabilia and buildings were consumed to ashes. 

In the days following the wildfire it would become known that one building survived, the lodging building known as “The Woods”.  Buddy McLean, Janet McLean and Jeanie Johnson made the trek to inspect the property. As they walked the remains of the buildings, now just ashes, they glanced at Mt. LeConte noting the famous view had remained.  In the distance they could see a single rocking chair with a simple burnt scar on the leg.  The fire burned so hot it consumed all in its path, but this rocking chair remained. The rocking chair was in a favorite spot for guests to gather, it is easy to imagine that every guest had either sat or stood by that rocking chair. Buddy took a seat and began to rock as the weight of what had occurred was taking a physical toll. In that moment of reflection the rocking chair took  him back to where it all started and forward to embracing hope with each rocking motion. The survival of the rocking chair meant that the past could not be erased, hope was restored and the future was inspired.

As the world around Gatlinburg learned of the devastation at The Lodge at Buckberry Creek, the outpouring of love, support and hope for the future became louder than the media of the wildfire event. Countless emails, messages and hand written letters of support, love and memories were received. Within 48 hours, Casting for Recovery called to pledge a fundraiser for Buckberry staff support. Over 10,000 social media messages made it clear the mission of the McLean Family was accomplished and appreciated, the true mountain gem would have to shine again!

Although the rebuild would take time to organize, Buddy, Jeanie and James knew they had one building to offer guests. With much consideration given to respecting the past, present and future the journey to open the surviving building began with the cleaning of debris, painting of the foundations remaining from lost structures and construction of a fence around a new gathering place for the rocking chairs.  It was a great task cleaning the accommodations and repairing the landscaping but in June 2017, the first building constructed on the property so many years ago reopened.  Since the opening, guests have been embracing the opportunity with each other and nature found while lodging at The Woods at Buckberry Lodge. “They are back, not full capacity but we had a relaxing week, we will be back” noted a repeat guest on the service, views and accommodations being just as they remembered. “Rocking chair, rocking babies, rock-a –bye, rock of ages side by side will be together always”.  In the time since the wildfire those lyrics give song to the legacy of The Lodge at Buckberry Creek. The rocking chair invites you to take a seat, embrace the surroundings, rock a little and rise with a smile. For years those chairs rocked guests as they made s’mores, talked about adventures of the day, and made new friends.  The rocking chair, a symbol that memories could not be erased but would carry on through the ages as generations share the memories of yesterday and the possibilities of tomorrow while they rock together gazing at the magnificent mountains.  The opportunity to see the Buckberry Rocking Chair and the amazing view of Mt. Leconte awaits at the The Lodge at Buckberry Creek.  The surviving building “The Woods” is open for lodging reservations.   Contact 865-430-8030 or inquiries@buckberrylodge.com for details.  While you’re there take a seat in the rocking chair and smile knowing though the ashes of life’s worst burn you will rise, no matter the scar or number of times you are rocked, there will always be the rise. 

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