Festival of Trees grows bigger

Nov. 27, 2012 @ 12:14 AM

The annual Festival of Trees packed up the lights on Saturday in the Gatlinburg Convention Center, ending one of the event's most successful years.

"Every year we have doubled the number of visitors, and what's great is so many of them come back," Frances Lofton of the Festival of Trees committee said. "And we get to know the people who come in."

Around 80 decorated Christmas trees filled one room of the convention center from Tuesday to Saturday, and visitors could wander through the faux forest free of charge.

Money raised at the festival benefits the Smoky Mountain Area Rescue Ministries (SMARM). Lofton didn't know exactly how much money they'd raised, but she said it was definitely more than last year.

"We've sold a couple trees, picked up sponsorships, sold some Christmas items, and people are putting money in the donation box more," Lofton said. "People realize the money is going to stay here."

Lofton said one of the most successful aspects of the festival was the Business After Hours (BAH) event that was held Tuesday night following the opening day of the festival. She said around 110 guests pre-registered for this year's BAH, compared to last year's 50 or 60 pre-registered guests.

"This was the largest turnout for Business After Hours," she said.

At BAH, the committee gave away door prizes that included a fully decorated Christmas tree, and the festival also gained another sponsor: Country Cobbler Custom Leather.

Decorators had already finished decorating the trees, so Country Cobbler had its pick of whatever un-sponsored tree it wanted.

Besides sponsoring trees, individuals or businesses could purchase the decorated trees to take home or set up in a store.

"This is the first year we've actually sold a couple of trees," Lofton said. "We've also had people who've said they want to sponsor a tree next year."

Tree prices run anywhere from $150-$450, depending on the size of the tree. Citizens National Bank bought a tree for the maximum amount and is placing it in its Gatlinburg branch.

"That's our goal, because that's how we make the most money," Lofton said.

The committee recycles and reuses the trees and decorations each year, but Lofton assures that the trees never look the same.

"We have different people decorating the trees, so it's whatever they see," Lofton said. "It's really interesting to see some of the same decorations turn out differently."

Food City decorates its tree differently every year, but Lofton said it's consistently a crowd favorite. Food City blended a tropical theme with a white Christmas and came out with white cockatoos perched on the evergreen.

Laura Horesovsky of Chattanooga, Tenn. said, while she liked Food City's take, her favorite bird-inspired Christmas tree was featured in the Festival of Trees last year.

"We came about two years ago to see the Festival of Trees, and I remember I saw a tree with this big purple peacock, and it was remarkable," Horesovsky said.

Horesovsky is in Gatlinburg celebrating her parents' — James and Connie Sanders — 50th wedding anniversary. She's been coming to Gatlinburg for years, but she attended her first Festival of Trees two years ago.

Since then, she's been using the festival to gather ideas for her own Christmas tree — ideas like the purple peacock.

"I'd never seen anything like that before, and the festival is an excellent way to get ideas for decorating your own tree," she said. "You see stuff that you'd never think to do."

rhargett@themountainpress.com