Sevier County tourism officials expect big summer

Sevier County tourism officials expect big summer

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"We love the Smokies. We love this atmosphere and we love the campers. It's just a friendly group of people," said Deb Feist (left). "We love the Smokies. We love this atmosphere and we love the campers. It's just a friendly group of people," said Deb Feist (left).
Stabilized gas prices are one factor for large turnouts. Stabilized gas prices are one factor for large turnouts.
"We complain about the traffic, but if we didn't have it we would complain a lot more," said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters. "We complain about the traffic, but if we didn't have it we would complain a lot more," said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

By MIKE KRAFCIK
6 News Reporter

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) - A survey shows interest in U.S. travel has returned to levels seen in 2007, before the recession hit.

Sevier County officials say that is just one of the indicators of a big summer tourism season in the county.

Along U.S. Highway 66 in Pigeon Forge, Monday traffic was gridlock all day.

In these parts, that's a good thing. It's a sign tourists are visiting and helping the local economy.

"We complain about the traffic, but if we didn't have it we would complain a lot more," said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

Waters says the county's summer tourism season is off to a good start.

Dr. Steve Morse, an economist from the University of Tennessee Knoxville, predicts the county's $1.2 billion tourism industry could grow by as much as three percent this year.  

Stabilized gas prices are one factor for large turnouts.  

The owners of Creekside RV Park in Pigeon Forge say business is up compared to this time last year.

"We normally have up to 10 people check in a day," said David Lee, a park manager. "On Friday we had 45 people check-in, so quite a big crowd this weekend."

Dave and Deb Feist brought their RV to Sevier County from their home near Cincinnati, Ohio. They were at Creekside Park to visit their children for the weekend. 

The couple traveled to Pigeon Forge last Christmas, Thanksgiving, and now on Memorial Day.   Experts say it's these repeat visitors that drive tourism here.

"We love the Smokies. We love this atmosphere and we love the campers. It's just a friendly group of people," said Deb Feist.

County officials hope large investments will generate even more tourism dollars.

LeConte Center, a convention center being constructed in Pigeon Forge, is set to open in the fall.  

The Island in Pigeon Forge, formerly called Belle Island, is a restaurant, shopping and entertainment complex with a 200-foot observation wheel. The project is slated to open sometime in June. 

"There are going to be a number of good restaurants, and shops and so forth in it," said Waters. "It's going to be one piece of the puzzle to attract a number of visitors."

Leaders also expect tourism numbers to rise after key infrastructure projects are complete.

Crews are working to extend parts of U.S. Highway 66 in Sevierville to a six-lane highway. The work will improve traffic flow around Exit 407 at 1-40.

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