Snakes and dulcimers: Wilderness Wildlife Week has something for every interest
The city's 23rd annual Wilderness Wildlife Week kicked off Saturday at Music Road Convention Center with talks, classes and exhibits over topics ranging from fly fishing the Smokies to mandolin lessons.
The program, presented by the Pigeon Forge Office of Special Events, runs through Jan. 19 and offers hundreds of lectures, workshops, seminars, panel discussions and exhibits, as well as guided hikes and walks. Events are held throughout each day, and all events are free.
As many as 25,000 visitors from around the country and abroad attend the program each year. Some classes require preregistration, but most don't.
Saturday, over 40 visitors attended Fred Brown's presentation "The Serpent Handlers" in the convention center's Dobro Room.
Brown, a journalist and author, spoke about his experiences with Southern churches that perform a serpent handling ritual, in which members handle snakes as evidence of salvation.
The serpent handlers point to several passages in the King James Bible that refer to handling snakes as a sign of faith in God.
"They do it ... to confirm the word of God," Brown said. "If it's in the Bible, it guides their life."
The purpose of the presentation was essentially to demystify the serpent handlers, and Brown's value comes from his first-hand knowledge of the churches. He was able to tell stories of specific incidences within and outside of the serpent handling services, as well as people he'd met and friends he'd made during the process.
Later that morning, another group of 25 preregistered visitors and several more observers attended Deby Libby, Ginny Cliett and Linda Smith's "Beginning Mountain Dulcimer: TNT Dulcimers" lesson down the hall in the Ukulele Room from 10 a.m. to noon.
"By the end of the two hours ... you're going to sound like an orchestra," Smith told the class. "You don't believe me, but the reason we keep coming back (to teach this class) is the looks on all your faces at the end when you actually do it and realize you can."
Smith said she first got into the dulcimer when her husband bought her one for Christmas. She was a little hesitant to begin playing, due to her lack of success with other instruments, but she found that the dulcimer was fairly easy for her after she took an organized class and practiced more.
"The dulcimer is a very user-friendly instrument," Smith said. "It's only got three strings. Anybody can do that."
That's one reason classes at Wilderness Wildlife Week are so beneficial: Visitors can actually take away measurable skills after leaving the class.
"This is for anyone, anyone wanting to learn the dulcimer," Cliett said.