28th Annual Pigeon Forge Winterfest

Draped in more than 5 million lights, Pigeon Forge creates a winter wonderland for locals and guests alike to enjoy during the city’s annual Winterfest celebration. The lights of Winterfest shine from early November through the end of February.

From winter light displays to captivating holiday shows and so much more, here are just a few of the fun ways you can experience the delightful Winterfest Celebration.

Visit Dollywood to see more than 4 million lights shine during Dollywood’s Smoky Mountain Christmas, when the park is filled with holiday music, plenty of rides, a nightly Parade of Lights and much more to celebrate the season. Dollywood recently announced the addition of Dolly’s Parade of Many Colors, featuring new floats, specialty characters and songs. The park also adds a new show to its entertainment lineup with the stage production It’s a Wonderful Life.

Old Mill Square features a light display depicting its own version of a covered bridge, one made of thousands of twinkling lights that lead to one of the most historic areas of Pigeon Forge. The Smoky Mountain Opry is decked out for the holiday season with giant trees, wreaths and more, all covered with sparkling lights. You might even catch Old Saint Nick making a rooftop delivery.

Dolly Parton’s Dixie Stampede pulls out all the stops when it comes to decorating for the holidays. One of the highlights is their 60-foot-tall tree, adorned with colorful lights, ribbons and sparkling ornaments from the very bottom to the twinkling star on top. Another must-see is The Island in Pigeon Forge with all new decorations including approximately 40,000 ornaments, half a million lights and more than 5,000 feet of garland. Guests are treated to three new Christmas trees, including one that stands 40 feet tall and allows guests to walk through. Santa and Mrs. Claus greet guests at their new workshop while roving carolers fill the air with Christmas music.

Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures puts a new spin on the holidays with an all-new Christmas dinner and show. This year, it is Christmas in Timber Ridge and the competition is on to see which lumber camp family is the best at growing and supplying the best Christmas trees in all the land.

And the best way to take in the beauty and splendor of all the light displays throughout Pigeon Forge is on the Winterfest Driving Tour of Lights, which begins at the north end of the Parkway.

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15 Things You Didn’t Know About Ober Gatlinburg

Initial reports stated that Ober Gatlinburg was destroyed by the November 2016 Wildfires. Kate Barido, Sales & Marketing Director for the only ski resort in Tennessee reflected on the night, days following and past year….

“We had people on property through the night, immediately we made contact with the agencies and news groups to correct this misinformation. Our primary concern was to locate our employees to make sure they were safe, clothed, housed and paid”.

“The impressive first responders, police force, firefighters, city workers and school employees managed to get our community functioning as quickly as possibly restoring a “new normal” and also restoring our faith in teamwork and the true meaning of community”.

We are the only Ski Area in Tennessee, as the southern-most ski slope in the United States, it is a convenient stop for winter fun.

Events are scheduled all the time to give you access to the slopes. Bonus: College Night and Ladies’ Night offer great discounts. We also give discounts to active and veteran military as well as free passes for children under 5 with a parent or guardian.

We have hosted the Special Olympics Tennessee Winter Games for 33 years. We are proud to participate in this wonderful organization. This fantastic event is something we look forward to all year.

We are open during all holidays. Make new traditions with your family by planning a visit during a holiday for a festive change of pace.

We feel incredibly grateful that our Downtown Office, Amusement Park, and the Trams and all of the Tram Towers were NOT affected by the 2016 Wildfires. We are so fortunate that we are still able to contribute to local tourism.

Our Trams are Swiss Built by a company called Von Roll. Trams actually provide one of the safest means of transportation available, and ours provide some of the most breathtaking views of the Great Smoky Mountains possible. Each ride takes approximately 10 minutes and is a unique experience.

The Trams mean more accessibility – since Gatlinburg is in the valley, driving conditions are typically more stable throughout the winter. Getting up the mountain can be dangerous, and the Tram offers a much safer, not to mention beautiful, solution.

You can spend all day at Ober’s many activities. Families love spending extended periods of time on all the attractions, even if winter sports are not your thing. There is fun available at Ober Gatlinburg all year round. If our facilities are open, ice skating, the arcade, a full-service restaurant and bar, shopping and our carousel are available. The Alpine Slide, Ski Mountain Coaster, Maze, Chair Swing and Scenic Lift are open any day the weather permits.

Snow is not artificial – it is machine made and there’s a difference! We are proud of our Snow Making system which is one of the most advanced systems in the world. Water droplets freeze as they fall through the cold air that the machines generate. The water droplets are frozen to create a “puff” of snow treated with a protein called “Snowmax” that allow it to last longer than natural snowflakes.

The animals in our wildlife encounter are rescued and unfortunately are no longer able to survive in the wild. They are given the best life we can give them and are well fed, and well taken care of. One of the bears is even a retired movie star! He was featured in several commercials. These days, though, he enjoys lounging by his pond.

Skiers and Snow Boarders from novice to expert can enjoy the slopes. With 10 Trails and multiple lifts, there are plenty of places to explore, and Mogul Ridge is a challenge for even the avid skiers and boarders. Families who are new to skiing can also take advantage of the Gatlinburg Snowsports Center group and individual lessons. After School Weekday Programs are available for beginner and intermediate students. They offer fantastic rates that provide lift tickets, equipment and helmet rentals, and lessons as a package. Don’t forget, in January, we celebrate “Learn to Ski and Snowboard Month.”

You don’t have to be a skier to enjoy Ober, though. 4/5 people are not skiing, which means they are spending their time on the mountain enjoying the many other activities.

Even if you are not into the “attractions” of Ober, there are plenty of opportunities to explore and appreciate nature and the unique views of the Smokies. There are also opportunities to connect with your spiritual side with services held on the mountain.

OktOBERfest is Legit! Ober Gatlinburg just finished celebrating Oktoberfest. Every year from Mid September to the end of October, Bavarian-Style Cuisine takes over the Seasons of Ober Restaurant, as well as an Oompah Band in authentic costume, and Bier Garden featuring specialty Oktoberfest beer and foods.

The Back In Blue Rail Jam event means the start of the winter sports season! We can’t wait to get tubing, skiing, snowboarding and winter merriment underway!

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Anakeesta Joins the Gatlinburg Family

One of Gatlinburg’s newest attractions, Anakeesta is a truly magical experience for guests of all ages. The adventure begins as you soar to the top of Anakeesta mountain from Downtown Gatlinburg on a 14-minute ride in either a quad chair or 6-person gondola cabin. Once at the top, you can experience Anakeesta’s whimsical treehouse village, which features local crafts, retail opportunities and dining. You can take a stroll through their canopy walk, which has 16 hanging bridges more than 40 to 60 feet in the air. If you are looking for a little more of a thrill, enjoy a race through the trees on their dual-racing zip lines, or speed through the forest on their new single rail mountain coaster. Younger guests will enjoy the Treehouse Village playground. The most priceless experience of all, however, are the stunning views of Mt. LeConte and Downtown Gatlinburg. Anakeesta is sure to become a favorite of visitors from all over the world, a place to create magical memories that will last for years to come.

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Jim Fox: An Impact of Kindness

It’s hard to find genuinely kind people in this world. Too often, a kind word can be precluded with unkind motivations, a hug with an end game, a gesture with a favor attached. I had the privilege of meeting one of these few people who give without holding back. My old high school was Knoxville Christian School. It wasn’t perfect, but there was one man who kept it running and made it feel like a home for the students who attended it. That man was Jim Fox.

Jim Fox wasn’t always at the quaint little school, however. He was actually born in Princeton, Kentucky, though good luck on getting him to tell you the year. It was there, and Paducah, Kentucky, where he was raised with the strong Christian values he still holds today. “I was blessed with a mom and dad.” Jim said, “My mother made the primary impact on my life. She was strong, and gentle, and always had something nice to say about everyone.” Though she died at the age of 52, young Jim made it his goal to follow in his mother’s benevolent footsteps.

He decided to pursue education. This is when he met his wife, Susan. They were students at the Western Kentucky University, and married in 1967. They’ve been married almost 50 years now, and even today, as I watch this couple, it’s all too evident the absolute devotion these two have had over the years. He wasn’t able to attend the college for long, however. His studies were interrupted when he joined the US Military, where he served on active duty for the US Army.

Finishing law school at the University of Memphis in 1970, Jim found work in Memphis, Tennessee, as a clerk for a federal judge, then practiced law in another local law firm. Three years later, his son Graham was born. That same year, he began working for TVA in Knoxville, as a trial attorney. A year after, his son Austin was born. Jim mentions that during this time, “It was difficult to stand on my Christian values.” He tried to get it right, but sometimes he had doubts on what was right. His trying paid off, and the company rewarded him for their success- they moved him up in litigation, then both Vice-President and Deputy General Counsel for TVA. He worked as a lawyer for thirty years, retiring in 2001. He continues to practice law to this day, however, working with children to finalize adoptions and other services pro-bono. Despite the demanding job, he was determined to be active in his community.

Jim started out at the Laurel Church of Christ for five years, then moved to the Farragut Church of Christ when they moved. There, Jim taught Sunday School and worked as an elder and deacon for 18 years. Jim and Susan now attend the Hardin Valley Church of Christ, where Jim serves as an elder. It was in these churches that he saw the need in his community, and wanted to help further.

But this requires a brief history lesson. You see, Albania was once controlled in an area where Christianity wasn’t allowed. God’s name could not be spoken, Bibles could not be brought in. “They were thirsty for God’s word.” Jim said. He brought the Bible to them as an undercover missionary. Over the course of his life, Jim Fox has traveled to Albania 22 times. As he’s traveled and worked, he has had the privilege of seeing the Bible spread in the Albanian communities he’s worked in, and even farther. Jim Fox serves on the World English Institute which provides Bible materials and studies to people, now with students in every country in the world.

His impact strikes close to home, as well. Jim Fox hasn’t just been working as a lawyer, he’s worked at Knoxville Christian School for a long, long time. Since 1989, when his wife Susan began teaching there, Jim Fox has been active in student lives. At first, he worked with his two sons, but after they graduated he saw the value of a Christian education and wanted to do more. Once he retired from TVA in 2001, he became interim principal several times, serving on the Board of Directors, and then president in 2011, and remained there until last year, 2016. He serves on the Board of Hillbrook Christian Association which operates camps for young people and
area churches.

I attended that school. This man not only impacted the facility, but me. He would genuinely try to get to know all of the students by name, and would bring us candy every Friday. If a student had questions about faith, his door was always open and a Bible at the ready. Because of the work he’d done the school increased in students. People believed in the school and the work it was doing, because he believed in the school. He believed in nurturing the students towards Christ. Most importantly, he believed in the students themselves.

And to be believed in?

That was the most important gift someone could give.

Jim Fox is one of the kindest men that I know. Whether he’s working for the law or working for education, Fox’s impact cannot be ignored not just on students, on his employees, but on the community at large.

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Gardening in Fall and Winter

As always, the first thing that should be done is a good checkup. Take a nice morning stroll around your yard and make notes on things that you like or don’t like, things that did well or didn’t do well, and ideas that you have for next year. Check plants for signs of disease and insects. Look up for damage to trees, and down for mole tunnels or vole holes. Take you coffee or tea (or mimosa, it’s your yard) and spend a little quality time with nature.

*The most important task after your checkup is a good cleanup! Pull out any remaining annuals, cut back perennials, get any disease or insect infested leaves up and away from your beds, pull up weeds, and clean up any other debris that will create hiding places for bugs or fungal spores. You can also divide spring blooming and fleshy rooted perennials now to spread out or share.

*Fall is a great time to add compost or leaf mulch to your beds. This does not mean you can let your leaves just pile up on top of your plants! At my house we rake or blow the leaves onto the lawn, run over them with the mower and then rake/blow them back onto the flower beds. Don’t pile it more than 3” deep, and make sure you haven’t buried the crown of perennials or heaped it around the trunks of trees and shrubs.

*Fall is also a great time to mulch if you didn’t get it done in the spring. 3” of mulch will keep soil temperature and moisture levels more stable. Remember to make donuts, not volcanoes around your trees! Volcanoes make a great hiding place for insects and voles and encourage trees to put out air roots. If you did mulch in the spring, take a rake and fluff it up. Old mulch becomes very hard and compacted over the summer.

*October tends to be our driest month. This means you need to water! Sprinklers are good for grass and flowers but are woefully inadequate for trees and shrubs. You don’t know how many times I hear the words “but I have a sprinkler” when people are asking why their plants died! Trees and shrubs need 1” of rainfall per week, and if we aren’t getting it, you have to supplement by hand watering or using a soaker hose. Keep in mind that a large shrub can drink 5 gallons of water a day when it is hot, and a tree can drink 35 gallons!

*If you need to plant trees and shrubs, fall is the best time. 85% of root growth occurs during the fall and winter, so getting them in now will give them a head start on next year. It is helpful, however, to get them in before the soil temperatures drop too low. You should also go back and read the last paragraph, because you must provide them with adequate water while they are developing roots. If you don’t, you will be replanting in the spring!

*You also have time to plant pansies for color throughout the fall, winter and spring. These are my favorite flowers because they give us such a long bloom period! They are heavy feeders, so use a slow release fertilizer when you plant or fertilize every couple of weeks to keep them blooming.

*Don’t forget your containers! You can do some stunning displays with plants, pumpkins and other things from your yard. I’m going to talk about a couple of holiday plants before I finish, because I have seen some really tragic things happen to them over the years.

*Let’s start with Poinsettias, because they are terribly temperamental. First of all, remember that they are a tropical plant! They will not withstand temperatures below 50 and will turn black in less than a minute of freezing temperatures. They are very fragile, so they must be put somewhere out of the way. They also are susceptible to root rot, so they should be removed from the foil wrap when watering. This is the one plant that I suggest you never buy from a box store because they need the care provided by a greenhouse. Last year, I saw a lady load 25 huge Poinsettias into the back of her truck at Costco on a very chilly day. Those babies were dead before she got to the red light. Buy from someone that knows how to grow them and knows how to tell you to take care of them!

*A Christmas cactus is much less temperamental and one of my favorite plants. Most problems occur because they are called a “cactus,” but they don’t like direct sun and they don’t like to dry completely out. They are a tropical cactus, not a desert cactus. It is also a bit tricky to get them to rebloom “on time.” They are light and temperature sensitive, so they set bud when they are getting less than 11 hours of light or when temperatures drop below 60. This can be difficult to achieve in your house! Customers also tend to keep them in the same pot for too long because they can live for decades. 5 years is about the limit.

*I could also tell you horror stories about Christmas trees being spray painted, but instead I will encourage you to buy from a reputable dealer and keep your tree watered! Ours all come from a family tree farm in North Carolina and will be cut for us on November 15th. We also have freshly cut greenery and wreaths.

That is all I have for now. Remember that we are open year round, so don’t hesitate to call or stop by if we can help you. We want you to have a beautiful yard!

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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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