Winterfest beginning Nov.6

by J. H. OSBORNE 1:29 AM State

SEVIER COUNTY — Sevier County, Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and Sevierville are ready for wintertime visitors as the four entities join together for the 28th annual Smoky Mountain Winterfest, which begins Nov. 6 and continues through February 2018.

The festival’s signature light displays line more than 25 miles of roadways to and from Interstate 40’s Exit 407 into and through the three towns, right up to the entrance of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. A fan favorite: the 12 Days of Christmas along the parkway in Pigeon Forge (for some it’s an irresistible group-sing moment).

In all, including those at Shadrack’s Christmas Wonderland right at Exit 407 and inside the Dollywood theme park, Winterfest features more than 15 million lights this year, Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Council Director Mary Hope Maples said Wednesday.

Dollywood, which kicks off its 27th annual Smoky Mountain Christmas festival in the park next weekend, was a major catalyst in the creation of Winterfest, Maples said, when the theme park’s officials first broached the idea of extending the region’s traditional tourism season past the fall of leaves in Autumn.

“Winterfest in one of the reasons we’ve all been able to work together,” Maples said. “Dollywood wanted to know if the cities and county would get on board if the park extended its season. It’s been wildly successful for our communities, our residents and businesses, and our visitors.”

In travel industry parlance, Winterfest and all the wintertime and Christmas-themed activities provided by Dollywood, Shadrack’s, Dixie Stampede, Country Tonight, The Titanic Museum, Ripley’s Aquarium of the Smokies, Ober Gatlinburg, The Christmas Place — and well, all the shopping, lodging, dining, and entertainment venues throughout the area — have created a solid, popular “shoulder season” for the local economy.

“Tourism is our lifeblood,” Maples said, noting the popularity of Winterfest and all its components has helped transition jobs that used to be seasonal to year-round work for many residents.

As for the damage from last year’s wildfires, Maples said the community continues to heal — but all the attractions visitors come to see are open for business.

“Things are certainly well into recovery,” Maples said. “Things are very positive. It’s nice to see the sidewalks filling back up and the parkway staying busy. All the things you’ve grown to love about our area are still there and the Winterfest welcome mat is out for you. Whether you come for the mountains scenery or outdoor activities and adventures or the holiday shows, or the food, or the shopping, or simply to see all the lights ... come see us.”

The start of Smoky Mountain Winterfest is marked by three kick-off celebrations: Nov. 6 in Sevierville; Nov. 7 in Pigeon Forge; and Nov. 8 in Gatlinburg.