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Growth of Gatlinburg: COVID’S impact on one of Appalachia’s largest attractions 

Gatlinburg’s history began in 1802 with the Ogle family settlement.


46-year-old Martha Ogle set out to follow William Ogle’s, her late husband, dream of settling down in what he described as “The Land of Paradise” in East Tennessee.


Ogle created a life out of her husband’s dream and the cabin that he began to build prior to his death, along with her seven children and her brother’s family. Tourists flock to the very same cabin today, as it still stands in Gatlinburg. 


Gatlinburg and the surrounding cities of Pigeon Forge and Sevierville began to only grow more until the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in the 1940’s and the opening of Dollywood in the 1980’s.


The Great Smoky Mountains stands as America’s most visited national park and Dollywood ranks as one of the top 50 visited amusement parks in the world, making the Sevier County area a staple tourist destination in Appalachia.  


A halt in the booming tourism came in March of 2020 with the COVID-19 pandemic taking the world’s reigns. A plummet in Sevier County’s revenue became apparent in April of 2020 with a decrease of 79% as compared to 2019 due to establishment restrictions. 


Things began to take a turn for the area in the Summer of 2020, though, when the tourist destinations began to market safe and responsible travel to their patrons. City officials and local businesses began working together to provide every precautionary measure possible for tourists while maintaining Tennesseans in a “financially stable position,” according to Tennessee Governor Bill Lee.


The area took advantage of Americans’ surge towards outdoor recreation activities as establishments began closing and people were urged to keep a safe distance from one another. This allowed for both recurring visitors and new visitors to travel to the Smokies during the Summer.


During the second half of 2020, the Smoky Mountain National Park was met with an increase in visitors as compared to 2019. This paved the way for Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge, and Sevierville tourism to successfully bounce back from the pandemic.  

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