GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) — Five years ago, the hills around Gatlinburg were smoldering, 14 lives were lost to the smoke and flames, and shortly after came talk of a memorial to the dead. But after five years, Gatlinburg still does not have a memorial.
Lori Tucker visited Gatlinburg’s Mynatt Park where the memorial will one day stand to find out why. Seth Butler with the city of Gatlinburg shared the architectural blueprints for the memorial. Within the park there will be a memorial for the victims and a bridge will be moved to make room for a tribute to first responders. “On the tribute wall side, there will be the mountain tough logo,” said Butler.
“We all hate that it’s taken this long and I wish… You know when it initially started I thought a year, two years, hopefully, we’d be breaking ground and it just didn’t happen that way,” Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters said.
Gatlinburg and Sevier County also have a grant from the Tennessee Department of Transportation for the memorial. It’s a transportation alternatives program grant. $852,293 dollars awarded in September 2019. Butler says it’s a reimbursement grant and the city of Gatlinburg and Sevier County are funding 20% of the estimated cost of construction plus engineering which equals $333,450.25.
“We’re currently in the right of way process of that grant process,” said Butler.
“Getting through the… jumping through all the hoops that you have to-the environmental studies and the approvals we have to have that is taking a lot longer than we thought it would,” said Waters.
Leaders are hopeful that a groundbreaking for the long-awaited memorial will take place in a matter of months. “Hopefully we’ll be able to break ground in the spring — that’s the current timeline and that’s where the project stands right now,” said Waters.
Mynatt Park is actually the second location for the memorial. The first site in downtown Gatlinburg was damaged by heavy rain back in 2019.