Natural beauty draws visitors to park

Jan. 03, 2013 @ 12:44 AM

What brings so many visitors to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the holidays?

Although there are surely many answers, some would respond with another question: Do you have to ask?

"Why not the Smokies?" said Stacy Allen of Jacksonville, Fla., while perusing the museum of the Sugarlands Visitor Center at the edge of the park on Saturday.

Stacy was visiting the park with her husband David as a sort of after-Christmas getaway. The two arrived on Thursday and planned to stay until Monday. Although David had been to the area many times before, it was Stacy's first time.

She said the mountains attracted her to the area, and "the people are nice, too."

"It was my idea to come," she said. "We're from Florida, and I wanted to go north for winter."

So far in the trip, the couple had seen Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge, and they planned to take a tour of the mountains.

"That's basically it, cruise Cades Cove, stuff like that," Stacy said.

Cades Cove was still an option for the Allens Saturday, but they'd have to wait until later to see the rest of the park, since Newfound Gap Road (U.S. 441) was closed at the time due to snow and ice. To the Allens, the inconvenient closure meant a change of plans.

"(The road closure) kind of annoyed me," Stacy said. "We wanted to see some snow."

Others, however, went unaffected.

"We didn't plan on going into the mountains until tomorrow," said Mike Barry, who stood in the Sugarlands gift shop with his wife.

The couple is from Hammond, La., and they came to Gatlinburg for their fifth wedding anniversary.

"We came here on our honeymoon, so we came back," Jill said.

Their intentions were to relax; or, according to Jill, to do "as little as possible" for three days. Mike agreed.

"We're not going to do a lot," Mike said with a laugh. "We're going to a dinner show, go to Peddler to eat, do some shopping, and we're going to ride around a little bit."

Jill said they booked the same cabin they stayed in for their honeymoon. And though the cabin is in Pigeon Forge, that's not the area of the county they're interested in.

"Pigeon Forge doesn't necessarily draw us," Mike said. "The park draws us. It's very pretty."