It’s been some nine months since a horrific wildfire tore through Gatlinburg, Tenn., killing 14 people, damaging more than 2,000 buildings, and causing $1 billion in damage. Sevier Country is visited by more than 12 million people annually, as tourists flock to Dollywood in nearby Pigeon Forge, head to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, or visit local whiskey distilleries, but that also meant that the devastating blaze had a tremendous impact on local hotels.
Some properties, such as the perennial favorites Eight Gables Inn and Tudor Inn were completely destroyed in the fire, whereas others, like the popular Chalet Village, lost 100 privately owned rental cabins, leaving 60 available for occupancy.
In the months that have followed, some properties have begun the long task of rebuilding, such as Westgate Smoky Mountain Resort & Spa. Reconstruction of the property, which lost 652 units, began in February. “The property will be rebuilt to an even better standard than before,” said David Siegel, the company’s president and CEO, in a statement. Construction is slated to be complete in early 2019.
The Lodge at Buckberry is another property that suffered tremendous damage in the fires, but elected to rebuild. The property once housed 100 guests in its 42 rooms, and lost all but one building, which reopened back in May. Rebuilding the others will take another year or so, according to owner Buddy McLean, who opened the lodge in 2005.
Regardless of the tragedy, tourists haven’t stayed away from the quaint town for long, with the summer in particular drawing large crowds. If you’re planning a visit to the mountain town, this fall’s Sugarlands Mountainfest Music & Outdoors Festival looks to be a great introduction, combining over 30 live musical performances with running, biking, & fishing competitions, craft cocktails, and the region’s award-winning spirits.
The regeneration of Gatlinburg goes to show how resilient destinations can be following such tragedies. As this hurricane season has already seen two massive storms bring devastation to the southern U.S. and the Caribbean, with another currently targeting the latter, it's encouraging to recognize this regrowth.