Last summer, my family and I had the amazing honor
to be part of the PBS television show “Getting Away Together” as it filmed in
the Smoky Mountains. We have always said that we were like walking
billboards for the area, as we are not shy about telling our friends of our
love of the Smokies and giving them tips and pointers as they plan their own vacations
here, but we never dreamed that we would have the opportunity to share our
story with so many people!
All twelve of my family members (my mom and dad; my brother, Mark, and his wife, Kathy, and
their adult children, David and Katie; my brother, Deron, and his wife,
Jennifer, and their small children Mary, Maggie, and Molly; and myself) were
invited to come to spend a week in a beautiful cabin, and a camera crew
followed us as we did our favorite things in the Smoky Mountains. It was the experience of a lifetime!
Friends often ask me why my family keeps coming back
to the Smoky Mountains from Indiana time after time, year after
year. We typically make the six hour
trek at least three or four times a year, sometimes more, and people who have
never visited have a hard time understanding what it is that draws us back so
often. The answer is simple…the area has
become our home away from home, a place where we can come to unwind, relax,
recharge, and get away from our hectic daily lives. Sevier
Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville) has become “our” place. The beauty of the mountains themselves and
the atmosphere they provide, together with the shopping, entertainment, dining,
and activity options, make the Smokies the perfect combination for our
My great-grandparents first came to the Smokies right
around the time that the National Park opened.
They stayed in a little cabin in Gatlinburg, which was one of the few
lodging options available at the time. In
turn, my grandparents brought my mom here when she was a little girl, and she
loved it! She wanted my dad to
experience the place that she loved first hand, so when my parents married 50
years ago in 1962, they decided to honeymoon in the Smokies. They have not missed a year visiting since! They then passed along their love of the area
to my two brothers and I, as vacations to the Smoky Mountains
became an important part of our family life.
My dad is a retired minister, so time away together as a family was a
precious commodity as we were growing up.
We knew that during our weeks in the Smokies, we would have our dad and
mom completely to ourselves, and that was a great gift! When my brothers married, they wanted to
share the Smokies with their wives, so each of them made the mountains their honeymoon
destination, as well. And they have
followed family tradition by bringing their kids as they have grown, too!
It is this long history that makes the Smokies feel
like home! I remember seeing my first
black bear as we drove through the Roaring Fork Nature Trail when I was about
five years old. We certainly don’t have
those in Indiana,
and I was in awe! I remember my first
time riding the Sky Lift with my dad in Gatlinburg, and going up the mountain. I was scared and so excited at the same
time! I remember our many family picnics
in the mountains. We would stop at a picnic
area as we were on our way to Cades Cove or we would head to the Chimneys
picnic area, and we would cook breakfast on our camping grill by the ever-present
river as we listened to the water rush by us.
I remember my first time behind the wheel of a go-cart at Adventure
Raceway, as I raced my brothers around the track. I felt like big stuff! I remember when we were introduced to
Dollywood and all of the fun that it would bring us! We love the shows and the rides, and try to
come at least once for each of the seasons and festivals. Even though we all live in Indiana, we have had Dollywood season passes
for years! I remember years ago when
someone told us that there was gossip around town about a new shopping center
that might be going in between Sevierville and Pigeon Forge. We were so excited when those whispers turned
into Tanger Outlets! My mom and I have
spent many hours (and more than a little money) there!
All of these things (and much more) combine to make
the Smoky Mountains incredibly special to me and
to my family. No matter what we choose
to do, whether simply relaxing and not doing anything or being more active and taking
part in all of the exciting entertainment options that are available, we know
that we will have a great time together.
The Smokies provide a wonderful place where we can get away from
everything and reconnect. When I sit on
the balcony of a hotel and watch the activity surrounding me on the Parkway or when
I sit on the porch of a cabin and look at the peaceful beauty of the mountains,
there is no place on earth that I would rather be.