Madelyn & Chad

It all started with a photo shoot in Charleston, Madelyn was hired to model and Chad was a wedding cinematographer. They met on a warm day in the low country, flirted throughout the photo shoot and thus was the beginning of a beautiful friendship that evolved into a timeless love story. As is true for all great love novels,the stars of the script are the bride and groom, however, for this story it gets much bigger with Joe and Kathleen Atkins of JOPHOTO.The co-stars were the reason the couple met, their first thought for photographing the wedding and after the engaged couple visited the Atkins home, it was the perfect setting for their love to be displayed. Chad and Madelyn were looking for wedding venues, Joe and Kathleen had just purchased a home on the lake with the intent of hosting small weddings and the stars aligned to make a magical moment.The day of their wedding was an absolute dream. It was warm and sunny with the most amazing orange and purple sunset. As Chad and Madelyn Cunningham were saying their vows, the sun dipped over the mountains and the sky began turning the most gorgeous pastel colors. A day of intentional honesty in expressing the couple with a reflection of all the people they love. “This day was more than we ever imagined, and we are so thankful to our family, friends, and everyone who was a part of the best days of our lives”, reflected Madelyn, “Our photographs were taken by the couple who introduced us, hosted at their beautiful home, we will never forget this day.”

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Brittany & Brett

It was love at first sight or at least it was love when they finally met! Brett Hawkins and Brittany Wheeler had lived less than a mile from each other for five years before meeting while working together briefly in the last few months of college. It may of taken time to actually be introduced, but they have made up for every minute of it since that moment. Officially becoming a couple on March 8, 2018 while visiting Asheville, NC, getting engaged on December 26, 2018 atop Anakeesta in Gatlinburg and married on March 9, 2019 in the bride’s hometown and place they first met, Johnson City.
Brett followed the traditional rites of passage by asking his soon to be bride’s family blessing on the union. The engagement ring is perfected and centered by a diamond from the wedding ring of the bride’s grandmother. The wedding planning was seamless and fully designed by the bride, Brittany and her mother. A beautiful day with family and friends, each detail carefully aligned with their personalities, joining the families of Wes and Kim Wheeler with Tony and Elaine Hawkins. A day of love, union and beauty in an unmatched setting of elegance.
Taking place at The Gallery, the gorgeous chandeliers and large fireplace are focal points of this exceptional venue, along with hardwood floors, exposed brick and windows overlooking downtown Johnson City with spectacular sunset views. Candles and rose pedals filled the space, a special touch of the couple for the enjoyment of all and captured in timeless photography by JOPHOTO. Followed by a fun-filled honeymoon to Disney World and Clearwater, Florida, the couple now resides in Knoxville. Congratulations Brett and Brittany.

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Chelsea & Drew

It’s not the typical love story for the mother of a boy to set up a blind date, but that is the case of how Drew Bowlin met Chelsea Harris, his mother set them up on a date. Turned out that Chelsea’s University of Tennessee cheerleading coach, Joy had watch Drew grow up and when the time came for him to propose, his mom and Joy would assist in making it extra special.

That particular day, Joy was out of town and spent the day issuing orders to her assistant coach, Chelsea. It was an exhausting and stressful day being made better by a planned date with Drew later than evening. That was until the insisted text from Joy sent Chelsea to Neyland Stadium with Mascot Smokey to search for something. Through many twists and turns they finally found what they were looking for and Chelsea found Drew standing in the middle of the field with a heart made of pom poms. Unable to move and breathless, Chelsea looked up to the Jumbotron seeing a picture with the text…Will you Marry Me?

The engagement photos show the story of merging of two worlds, Drew Bowlin,former minor league pitcher for San Francisco Giants and Chelsea Lee Harris, former UT Cheerleader. He pitched his loved which she secured with a glove.

On Saturday, December 9, 2017 at Castleton Farms in Loudon, the two became one and forever will be known as Drew and Chelsea Bowlin. The holiday themed wedding was captured in photography by Melanie Fritz, with personal touches of floral arrangements done by family members. Cascading poinsettias highlighted the six tier wedding cake, perfectly matching the decor of a spectacular day. The perfect venue with
all the right details for a blessed and beautiful union.

No matter where baseball takes Drew, his favorite cheerleader Chelsea will at his side.

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The Best of East Tennessee

Camping in Tennessee is a time-honored tradition, to take in the natural beauty of our Smoky Mountains and the changing leaves in the fall that would leave Vermont jealous. When you live in the city, however, it can be hard to know which camping spots are best for a family trip, an overnight or just a quick hike through the woods. Here’s a quick list of the best places to enjoy nature whenever you feel the need to get out there, but not too far from home.

One of the most popular campsites in East Tennessee is called Cades Cove. Located just 11 miles from Townsend, the campground is open year-round with check-in starting at 11 am. Not only is it beautiful and populated with Tennessee wildlife such as white-tailed deer, black bears, coyotes and turkeys, it also has a great historical value to Tennessee. The Native American Cherokee tribe used to hunt at Cades Cove, and the settlers of the area left behind the most varied historical buildings concentrated in the Smoky Mountains! Offering everything from RV camping spots to tents, you can rough it however you feel comfortable.

Also in Townsend is the Little River Campground. Recently under new management, the park boasts fishing, camping, a newly redesigned bathhouse, as well as WiFi and mature trees. With day passes from $15, the Little River is the perfect little spot in the Smokies.

Hidden in Tellico, meanwhile, is a place called Indian Boundary. Considered the Crown Jewel of Cherokee forest, Indian Boundary is an 87-spot campground that boasts a variety of activities like swimming, fishing, biking and wildlife observation. Only open from April to November, it costs $10 a night to stay at any standard electricity-supplied space.

One of my favorite spots in Crossville is called Deer Run RV Resort. Open year-round with a $10 refundable gate fee,

Deer Run RV Resort is gorgeous no matter the weather. With an enormous lake for fishing, swimming and waterboarding, a pool, as well as access to a communal shower and activities planned by staff throughout the day, Deer Run RV Resort is a great place to bring the family. And you don’t need an RV, either – they offer places for tent camping as well as cabins. There are limited hiking trails, but this is a place to sit and enjoy yourself by the water.

Other family-friendly parks include the Norris Dam State Park that offers several lengths of hiking trails, several pull-ins and nearby attractions like the Museum of Appalachia. Not including the $5 non-refundable reservation fee, the campground at Norris Dam costs between $15-$27 a night depending on where you stay. This park does include a laundromat, so you can stay long after the first socks get muddy. If you prefer climbing over hiking, The Obed Lilypad on the Cumberland Plateau is a climber’s paradise and inexpensive at $5 a night. Though it sits on private land, the Obed Lilypad is open to all those who want to tackle Tennessee’s rocky top.

If you want a splashing good time, Tennessee has plenty of waterfalls, creeks and bends to keep you cool in our famously humid summers. Down in Hiwassee, the Gee Creek Campground in Hiwassee/Ocoee State Scenic River State Park offers a cool swim, a fishing area and even rafting. It is a primitive campground, however, catering to tent users. Depending on how many people are in your party, campsites can be anywhere from $30-$80 a night. If you want something water-related that’s a little more exciting,

Nolichucky Gorge on the Nolichucky River near the Tri-cities has the answer. Offering tubing, swimming and its signature whitewater rafting in late spring, Nolichucky Gorge can either be relaxing or exciting depending on what you’re looking for. Nolichucky Gorge also offers places for RVs and offers cabins if you want the outdoors to stay out. If you’re only looking to stay for the day, it’s $4 per person, and if you want an overnight, prices range from $11.50 a person (kids for $5) to $219 a night for the deluxe family cabin that sleeps 14.

But maybe a relaxing day trip isn’t what you want in a camping experience. Maybe you’re looking for a classic, overnight, backpacking, roughing it experience worthy of stories by the fire both in and outside the house. Given our proximity to the Appalachian Trail, you’re in luck. With over 50 miles of trails, Frozen Head State Park in the Cumberland Mountain offers 10 backcountry sites for backpackers and adventurers. The rates are between $8 and $35 a night. They ask that no one hikes a trail at night, due to the obvious risks involved. For night hiking, the Big South Fork National Park, also on the Cumberland Plateau, offers trails ranging from 11-55 miles for all levels of backpackers. A backcountry permit is required, however, and can be obtained for $5 depending on how many people will be traveling together. Open year-round, the park has no entrance fees.

No matter what your skill, or what you want out of your camping experience, there’s a park for you. Whether you’re an experienced backpacker or an RV owner hoping to enjoy the outdoors, there’s a park for you. Whether you want to whitewater raft or take a tubing cruise, there’s a park for you. Take advantage of the beautiful outdoors of Tennessee. The fantastic natural scenery is waiting.

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Kaitlyn & Andrew

For Kaitlyn Parrish, when something feels meant to be, it’s probably because it is. When she met her husband, Andrew, they both knew immediately it was destiny. She saw him and felt an instant connection without even realizing that, from across the way, he was experiencing the same feeling. They began dating in high school and never looked back.

One aspect of her special day where Kaitlyn did not trust her initial instincts was regarding her wedding dress. She grew up saying she would never wear her mother’s dress. When the time finally came for her to walk down the aisle, however, she couldn’t imagine wearing anything else. Sally Harmon at White Lace & Promises worked wonders, updating the dress to a more modern style with an elegant scooped back. According to Kaitlyn, “You can’t put a price on the sentimental value of the dress.”

When it came to selecting a wedding venue, the choice was easy. Kaitlyn had already been following Dancing Bear on social media because she was a fan of their Appalachian Bistro. When she saw a picture of their outdoor cathedral and showed it to Andrew, they immediately knew it was the place. Dancing Bear coordinated rentals, provided seasonal catering, made vendor recommendations…they even created a custom cocktail for the event called the Perfectly “Paired” Mule.

While the venue and vendors all did a fantastic job, it was the cherished memories that truly made the day special. In addition to reusing her mother’s wedding dress, Kaitlyn was able to use her grandfather’s impeccably restored 1931 Model A Rumble Seat Coupe as their “getaway car.” And years from now, as they celebrate significant anniversaries, they will have bottles of wine to enjoy with heartfelt messages from friends and family shared on their special day.

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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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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 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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The Legend of Coco Belle

Back in 1959, Esther Gray and her late husband Sanford purchased an unusual bit of Coker Creek history. It wasn’t a nugget of gold, a pottery jar or an arrowhead, but a grave site.

And it wasn’t just any grave site. This grave site was, and is still believed by many, to be the century-old burial place of Coker Creek’s legendary Indian maiden, Coco Belle.

History credits Coco Belle with trying to keep peace between the white-man and the Indians during the early 1800’s, before Coker Creek became a part of the infamous Trail of Tears. Over 4,000 of the 17,000 Indians died from hunger, disease and freezing weather during the 1838 and 1839 march out West.

It is said that Coco Belle made the trip several times to aid her fellow Indians on the long journey and to help them establish new homes upon their arrival out West.

But one question still remained: Is Coco Belle really buried in that immortalized grave in Coker Creek?

“We always believed that an Indian was buried there and it has always been said in the community that it was Coco Belle’s grave,” says Esther.

Today, the grave site is marked by stones piled waist-high in a wooded area on Esther’s property fronting Highway 68 in the middle of Coker Creek. The grave is situated on the side of what was once known as Hot Water Hill, but in more recent times has come to be called Coco Belle Ridge by adjoining property owners. Cabins and roads have been constructed nearby but the grave has remained intact.

When the Grays purchased the grave site in 1959, it was part of a 160-acre parcel the couple eventually turned into the Tellico Mountain Youth Camp. Records show that in the years before the Grays purchased it, the land had passed through the hands of three other families and one gold mining company.

There was already plenty of folk-lore surrounding the grave site when Esther and Sanford Gray made the purchase. They were especially aware of the time-honored tradition of tossing stones on the grave and the consequences of removing them.

“The saying was that for good luck you throw a rock on the grave and for bad luck you take a rock off,” explains Esther. For their young, curious campers, the temptation was often too much.

“We had two or three instances where little boys didn’t believe it and they took a rock off,” she says. “They took one off and sure enough they fell down or scraped a knee or something and we reminded them of that saying,” she says with a grin.

It is not known where the rock-tossing tradition originated but it is said that Coco Belle herself may have made the request before she died.

Esther, now 86, says that while it was rumored that the previous owners of the property had allowed the directors of a museum in Knoxville to excavate the grave, she and her husband saw no evidence of that happening. “The stones were still piled on it when we bought it,” Esther stated.

Some historians believe that in her later years, Coco Belle married a white settler named John Coker and that she went by the name of Betsy Coker for the rest of her life. She and her husband are said to have started a small store in Coker Creek which catered to travelers on the Unicoi Turnpike, a popular wagon trail which ran through Coker Creek.

When the Grays sold a portion of the 160 acre tract 20 years ago, they decided not to sell the little 16 by 40 foot strip of land making up the grave site. Esther said her late husband wanted the grave of Coker Creek’s best known Indian maiden preserved. “We were glad to have it and to be able to take care of it.” Esther said.

The Grays closed Tellico Mountain Camp back in 1988. During the years since her husband’s death a decade ago, she has passed up the offers of those wanting to buy the grave site, fearing that the hallowed ground might be lost forever to roadways or home-sites.

Even today, with the site of the old Tellico Mountain Camp property up for sale and the adjoining grave site to be sold with it, Esther is concerned about the grave. “I would like to see the grave site preserved and I hope that whoever buys the property will want to see it preserved too,” adds Esther.

For now, Coco Belle’s final request appears to have been honored. The stones remain piled high over her grave and her legend lives on in the little community of Coker Creek.

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Smokey Mountain Service Dogs

Many see the needs around them, but never put actions to their desire to help. In 2010, Mike and Susie Kitchens saw a large need in their community and decided to help those who had nearly given their all to our country. With a vision and a strong desire to change lives, Smoky Mountain Service Dogs organization was established.

What started as two puppy labrador retrievers and a few volunteers, has grown into the only 501(c)(3) nonprofit, accredited Assistance Dogs International organization headquartered in Tennessee and the surrounding 12 states that utilizes nearly 100 volunteers. Smoky Mountain Service Dogs is an organization dedicated to serving those who so bravely gave to our country and have sacrificed physically or psychologically that now need mobility assistance in their daily lives. SMSD is dedicated to one simple goal: “To enhance the physical and psychological quality of life for wounded Veterans by providing custom trained mobility assistance service dogs (at no cost to the Veteran).”

On July 20, 2018, the organization “Passed the Leash” to their 20th Veteran recipient and their second female veteran to receive a canine companion. The process of training and receiving a dog from SMSD is a labor of love, and quite a diligent process. Dogs are trained by world renowned canine program manager, Heather Wilkerson. Her experience includes training police dogs and working extensively on search and rescue missions all over the world. Lead trainer, Susan Travis, and staff trainer, Kassie Krause, complete the list of the only paid employees in the organization. The SMSD business model allows 95% of all donations to go directly towards fulfilling the mission of enhancing lives of those they serve. In the 1800-2500 hours and $25,000 it takes to train a dog for service to a veteran, nearly 100 sets of hands will have worked with each dog to ensure they are ready to aid their new warrior. The extensive application process is open to any Veteran that qualifies for mobility assistance. SMSD founder, Mike Kitchens, said the organization is happy to have aided many Veterans in the East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee regions. “When we began this organization, I was amazed to see that there were so many Veterans who needed help right in our backyard.”

How can you be a part of this life changing organization? SMSD is kicking off their campaign, “More Wags for Warriors” in October at their Annual “Night for Patriots” fundraising event that will be held this year at The Venue in Lenoir City. This extremely patriotic night will include dinner, a silent auction and testimonials from those who have experienced first hand the life changing effects that are results of a canine companion from SMSD. Special guests will be Wayne and Debbie Kyle, parents of “American Sniper” Chris Kyle. They will be presenting the organization with a $225,000 donation as the 2017 recipient of the Chris Kyle Memorial Benefit. This money will be used to help jump start the building of the SMSD new canine training facility on the organization’s existing training grounds in Lenoir City located off of Highway 321. The new facility will provide more room for training and new training technology so more dogs can continue to change lives. Volunteers are always needed for simple tasks such as raising funds or being a weekend helper with dogs in training.

Smoky Mountain Service Dogs organization is a reminder that dogs and desires to better our community can successfully go hand in hand. One dog and one Veteran at a time, lives and the legacy of them, can be changed forever. For more information about SMSD, how to apply for a canine companion, how to volunteer, or how to buy tickets for this year’s Night of Patriots Annual Fundraiser, visit

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Great Plates For Summer

Dining out is a great way to experience new cuisine and enjoy a meal with family and friends. Farragut Life Magazine would like to suggest a few great plates this summer. First Watch has a Bacon Egg Benedict that is good for breakfast or lunch. All of their food is made fresh and they now have 4 locations in Knoxville. Lakeside Tavern has a great shrimp salad for lunch or dinner, we also love their half price wine on Monday nights. Rick’s Dockside Grill at Tellico Marina in Vonore is a summertime favorite. This summer they are open for lunch and dinner. Great food and entertainment. Jump on the boat or drive to Vonore for the best tacos we could find! All these restaurants have wonderful food and you can enjoy the weather outside or stay cool indoors.

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