Sugarlands even sweeter with renovations completed

Park visitor center takes on a new, improved look
Apr. 13, 2013 @ 06:22 PM

Dozens of park officials, partners and visitors gathered at the entrance to the Sugarlands Visitor Center Friday morning for a ribbon cutting that marked the completion of the center's renovations.

"This began a couple years ago when we started doing a couple things to the Sugarlands Visitor Center to make it more environmentally friendly, more sustainable, more energy efficient," said Park Superintendent Dale Ditmanson.

The new renovations, many of which were designed and constructed in-house, include LED lighting to help with energy consumption, new flooring in the lobby and a new paint color: green grove.

The information desk has also been remodeled, and it's been moved from the left side of the lobby to the center of the back wall, becoming more of a focal point.

"The main thing you'll see when you walk in is just that updated sense of arrival," Ditmanson said.

A rock wall that mirrors the outside wall has been constructed behind the information desk. An interactive exhibit and information station now sits where the information desk used to be.

"The exhibits have been updated, there's new media and new ways to gather information as you enter and enjoy the national park," Ditmanson said.

The natural history museum, which is the same as before but used to be largely concealed, now has a wider entrance to the right of the information desk, with MUSEUM in bold black letters above the entry.

"We had kind of closed (the museum) off in a fashion that a lot of people didn't even know it existed. ... Now people have come up and said they really enjoy the new museum," Ditmanson joked.

Ditmanson said two of the park's partners were especially instrumental in facilitating the renovations: the Great Smoky Mountains Association (GSMA) and the Friends of the Smokies.

"It's been fun to watch this visitor center evolve," said Terry Maddox, director of the GSMA. "There's been a lot of change that's happened here in the last 25 years. But to me, this seems like the final piece."

Park crews worked during evening hours from 2-11 p.m. to install the new flooring, lighting, paint and to develop the new museum entrance.

The visitor center remained open throughout the construction period, though crews attempted to work mostly during the slower months at the beginning of the year.

Greg Ashburn of Jefferson, Wis. had never been to the visitor center before, but he was impressed by the current look.

"I think it's a very grand visitor center," Ashburn said.

rhargett@themountainpress.com