Dan Smith: Campground owners ready for new season

Apr. 07, 2013 @ 11:13 PM

It’s getting to be that time of year again when the tourists and the campers come to the Smokies. I know it’s a little early, since school is still in session, but it’s just around the corner.

People are booking their favorite abode, whether it’s a hotel/motel room, a condo, rental cabin, or the more primitive way; a tent.

Everyone has a different way to enjoy their stay here. This is why the Smokies area is so popular; there are differents types of roofs for different folks. I know I’ve experienced everyway you can sleep at night throught the years. My favorite way, at the present, is to stay at the lodge at Mt. LeConte. Getting up there is not for everyone, but it sure fills up during the season.

One way that people like to spend their time is in a camper. One place that will offer you a place to put your camper is Smoky Bear Campground right outside of Gatlinburg, on Highway 321. When I toured it a few weeks ago, I was impressed by the cleanliness of the place and its well functioning amenities. It sparkled, if you can describe a campground that way; particularly someplace outdoors.

Smoky Bear Campground is run by Barry and Chong O’Leary, who are not from this area. Prior to owning this business, they had never camped or visited here before. Most people visit here a few times and fall in love with the place, like I did many years ago. The O’Learys found it on the map, and then fell in love with it.

Barry served in the Korean war as a Spec IV in the Army in 1962, and met the woman of his dreams the second day of a square dancing session in Pusan. Chong was the secretary there, and they hit it off immediately. They were eventually married before leaving in October of 1963.

They settled in New Brunswich, N.J., and got into the hotel and restaurant business. Wildwood, N.J. was where they first got their start in hotels.

From there they found their way to Myrtle Beach in the motel field and retired in 1999. They found that after awhile, they were bored. They decided to go back to work, and that’s when they found the Smoky Bear Campground on the Internet. They started there in 2005 and have never looked back.

The property consists of 49 spaces on 15 acres. All have hook-ups. Their season actually starts on March 15. They seem to feed off of the energy of the people they entertain as their guests. They told me that campers are happier people who love being outdoors.

The O’Learys have a special love for their campers and it shows. Barry had a reservation service in Myrtle Beach which helps a whole lot in this type of work.

The campground is considered a five-star park and I can see why. I asked them what their biggest problem was and they couldn’t come up with an answer. I guess that is the best problem not to have.

I can also tell you that they run the campground themselves. They are truly hands on and that’s the only way they would have it. No manager there, it’s them. Whatever needs to be done, they do it. This is how they relax; by working.

It’s so nice to be able to look out across the road and see the national park as you are surrounded by trees and green everywhere you look. It’s such a beautiful scene to wake up to each morning, knowing that you are in a very special place. I especially like their motto: “Where You’re Treated Like Family.”

They also have a meeting facility that seats 70 people for reunions, RV rallies, or other social events. The heated pool is very inviting as well. For those of you who can’t leave all of civilization behind, there is also wireless internet service.

— Dan M. Smith is a Cincinnati native and Gatlinburg resident. He is the author of two novels. His son is serving in the Air Force. E-mail to dan0729@yahoo.com.