Sevier County is still dealing with the devastation from wildfires that burned out of control on Monday night, damaging hundreds of buildings and killing at least 11 people.
Access to Gatlinburg is still restricted due to damage and search efforts, though many of the major businesses on the strip survived.
Pigeon Forge and Wears Valley lost some rental cabins, but no businesses were destroyed. There was no damage in Sevierville. They are open for business, and city and county leaders are urging people to come visit.
“Many of our city’s 6,000 residents, as well as those of our friends and family in Gatlinburg, are dependent on the tourism industry for jobs to care for themselves and their families,” said Leon Downey, Pigeon Forge executive director of tourism. “As our communities move forward, our industry has an obligation to our residents and employees to encourage visitation to the area and sustain our businesses.”
Even Gatlinburg's mayor, Mike Werner, is encouraging visitation to the area as a show of support.
"If you really want to do something for Gatlinburg, come back and visit us,” Werner said.
The Winterfest festival continues in Pigeon Forge and Sevierville, including several Christmas shows at various theaters. Dollywood theme park reopens on Friday, Dec. 2. Restaurants and lodging properties are operating on normal schedules.
“We are heartbroken by the devastation we’ve seen in Gatlinburg,” said Pigeon Forge City Manager Earlene Teaster. “But I speak on behalf of all our Pigeon Forge tourism partners when I say that we offer our constant prayers and encouragement for everyone affected and stand alongside them as they work to rebuild.”
Many businesses in Pigeon Forge and Sevier County have strongly supported the evacuees and emergency workers over the last few days, and will continue to do so.
The Tennessee Emergency Management Agency (TEMA) and Tennessee Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster (TN VOAD) have set up a call center to provide information for those who would like to donate goods and volunteer to help survivors. For a list of the most-needed items, please visit http://mypf.social/pfdonationneeds. The call center is staffed from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily; the phone number is 866-586-4483.
To support displaced residents and visitors, Pigeon Forge established a distribution center to disperse donated food and supplies. Located just off the Parkway in Pigeon Forge in the former Boyds Bear building at 149 Cates Lane, the facility is open Monday through Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Sunday from 1 to 4 p.m.