PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — After the most recent Pigeon Forge Rod Run this past weekend, a petition is going around on social media to cancel future events.
However, many people, such as the creator of the petition, consider it all the “rod run shows,” because those cars on the side of the road have been coming to town the same weekends of the rod runs for about as long as the actual show itself has been in Pigeon Forge.
That’s even according to David Wear, the Pigeon Forge Mayor.
He said people have been parking their classic cars and posting on the sidewalk with lawn chairs ever since he can remember.
“Those people have been coming ever since I was little. The first time I ever drove through a car show, or saw a car show, those chairs were out there. Those folks were sitting out there to see the classic cars and those cars that they love,” Wear said.
Journee Clouse, the Sevier County resident who created the petition to cancel the general idea of rod run shows, said the event is no longer like that.
Clouse said she even used to enjoy them when she was a teenager. But now, as an employee working at The Island, she said they are completely different.
“Overall, I think the rod runs have become a very negative event for Sevier County,” Clouse said.
On Friday night, a fight at a gas station led to gunshots being fired–with no injuries reported.
Clouse said this past weekend, the streets were filled with men catcalling women, including herself, and then acting belligerently if she didn’t respond.
“Just driving down the road, you know, I was black-smoked, they revved their engines as loud as they could, like deafening loud,” Clouse said.
Another Sevier County resident, Emily Duncan, also faced harassment on the sidewalks this weekend, and was with her 14-year-old sister at the time.
Duncan said she and her family have been attending the rod run shows for the past seven years, and this was the worst she’s seen people behave.
“Not even 10 minutes into sitting in traffic, I got asked to flash a group of guys,” Duncan said.
She said that’s never happened to her before at the rod runs, so shrugged it off to that one group of guys.
“Unfortunately, by the time we were on the other side of the road heading back toward the Sevierville area, I had been catcalled and sexually harassed at least 20 different times by groups of grown men,” Duncan said.
Duncan said her 14-year-old sister also got catcalled a few times, especially by a group of guys holding a sign with distasteful remarks.
Even the Pigeon Forge Police Chief, Richard Catlett, said this was one of the worst weekends he’s seen with the car show in town, although as far as a number of citations, it’s about the same as the recent years.
He said they always have issues with drinking, which leads to fights. This time a fight led to gunshots.
“The show itself isn’t the biggest issue. The event at the LeConte Events Center here causes us very little problems. It’s the followers that don’t attend the show. The people that come here to drink and party,” Catlett said.
“Unfortunately, many times it takes a certain group to ruin it for everyone else. We’ve hosted car shows since the late 70s, but over the last few years the behavior of some is causing us, as a city, to take a serious look at them,” Catlett continued.
That’s what Clouse wants with her petition.
Mayor Wear agreed the city needs to talk about what they can or can’t do. He said the biggest issue, on the same note with Chief Catlett, is that the actual car enthusiasts aren’t the problem.
Wear said he wanted to make sure there was that clear distinction.
Even though the classic cars and hot rods are not part of the LeConte Center event, Wear said those car enthusiasts aren’t the problem either.
The only issue they may cause, he said, is taking up parking spots that businesses may need. That and creating more traffic–but he said the traffic isn’t any different from busy holidays in Pigeon Forge. He said it’s those who come for a party that create the issues.
“It’s the people who come that aren’t interested in cars. They come because there’s a crowd, they come because they got a free day trip or an easy day trip up here where there’s a lot of people and they can cruise,” Wear said.
Chief Catlett said part of the problem this weekend could have been the trucks that headed over from the diesel show in Sevierville, which was going on concurrently.
Wear said a few problems could arise from trying to cancel the events all together.
First of all, the state owns the Parkway, the sidewalks along the Parkway and the first row of parking spots along the Parkway.
Wear said while Pigeon Forge police can arrest anyone along those areas for breaking the law, that’s all they can do, and parking a car there isn’t necessarily breaking the law.
Which comes to another point: even if they tried to cancel the event, there’s no telling if people would get the hint.
Wear pointed out that the Pigeon Forge Rod Run was cancelled last spring due to COVID-19, and people still came with their cars parked along the Parkway.
The other issue is, according to Wear, is not everyone wants to see it canceled.
He said local businesses have made friends with long-time attendees, so much so that they even help at family funerals.
Wear did say though, that back in the day the rod runs were brought into the city in a time when Spring was dead in Pigeon Forge.
“A lot of these businesses couldn’t make it in the first quarter without these shows, and really relied on it. I’m talking a time when I was in office, so not that long ago,” Wear said.
That’s not necessarily the case anymore.
Wear said the city is now constantly breaking revenue records, even during the year of the pandemic with a few months of shutdowns.
Clouse said that wasn’t the case for her job either.
“Two weeks ago, and the past couple weeks, our businesses have been bringing in a lot of money. And over the weekend was the slowest it has been in two months,” Clouse said.
However, another employee of Sevier County said the shows are still good for business, as long as something can be done about the people not being respectful of the town.
“I think if the (rod runs) were controlled properly and people were respectful to our county and its residents, they are great to have and generate a lot of revenue to local businesses and the employees,” Shawn Blanchette said.
Blanchette also said this past weekend was the worst he’s seen it in his eight years of working in Sevier County.
Wear said the next step is to see where the residents and officials want to go with the rod runs. He said the answer isn’t simply to cancel the shows.
“Who do we want to be in the future? Do we want more of (the shows)? Is this the direction we want to go in? Do we try to, instead of outright canceling everything, do we try to figure out a way to split those groups and make sure the people who are here to have a good time can come here and have a good time, and be ruley and be respectful,” Wear said.
Wear said he would love suggestions from residents at the upcoming city council meetings. He said the future of rod runs isn’t on a work session agenda yet, but after this past weekend, he knows it will be on one soon.
Clouse said the rod runs should either be canceled, take a break or move to another city, such as Knoxville.
She said it might take a while for people to get the hint and not have their own car show on the Parkway, but she said something needs to be done to stop the unruly behaviors she witnessed this past weekend.
“We need to set rules in place for these situations. We need to set designated areas for people to put their cars,” Clouse said.