PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Nestled inside the Smoky Mountains of East Tennessee is a playground that both adults and children can enjoy.
The cities of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg have turned into a tourist spot set up like the Las Vegas of the 1960s and 1970s: A strip of wide highway surrounded by dozens of attractions, dinner theaters, hotels, rental cabins and restaurants.
While the old-time Vegas attractions, as well as today’s, were centered around gambling, the vice of choice in this Smoky Mountain playground is moonshine.
Moonshine is an important part of Appalachian culture, according to the Pigeon Forge tourism website, and has a rich history dating back to the American Revolution.
Copper pot, stills, pipes running through abandoned creeks and secluded woods, that’s the recipe that got this whole thing started.
According to the website, when the settlers came to the Americas in 1620, they began to distill the maize or Indian corn.
This went on uninterrupted for almost 200 years until Congress passed federal tax on liquor and spirits to pay for the expense of fighting wars. However, people in East Tennessee and other areas of Appalachia were not keen on the idea of being taxed, so they just kept on making it. This was a matter of survival, they thought, a way to pay bills and provide for the family. But the federal government considered them outlaws.
Today, that’s all changed. The state of Tennessee has changed its law to allow the distillation of spirits.
Believe it or not, the adult beverage of choice for the hill country has now become commercialized. The Pigeon Forge / Gatlinburg area boasts at least six local distilleries, including Old Hickory which is located in the center of the Island, the entertainment hot sport in the center of Pigeon Forge. The Island also includes amusement areas for children and five-star hotels and restaurants, including the one owned by former Food Network star Paula Dean.
Adults can send their kids to the rides and then head for Old Hickory for a taste of moonshine that comes in as many flavors as you can imagine. Be careful, parents, each of those tastes are like 140 proof!
Another popular attraction not far from the Pigeon Forge “strip” is Dollywood amusement park, the theme park made famous by country music recording star Dolly Parton. Although Dolly wasn’t raised in that part of the Smoky’s, actually her hometown is about a mountain or two east of Gatlinburg, all her memories are located within the confines of the park.
There’s the Dolly Parton museum, the tour bus in which she rode to many of her performances and lots of lots of venues where Dolly’s country music friends and upcoming stars perform in mini-concerts in venues throughout the park. In fact, those singers looking for career usually stop first in Dollywood to see if their acts play before heading to Nashville on the other side of the state.
And like all amusement parks, Dollywood offers the finest of wooden roller coasts, other rides that twist, turn or take you upside down as well as all the unhealthy food that makes the kids’ mouths water. A trip to Dollywood wouldn’t be complete without a ride on the coal and wood-fueled locomotive that circles the park.
Special holiday shows, Christmas culinary delights and festive lighting — including five million twinkling luminaries — have been planned for the Yule season through Jan. 2 at Dollywood.
For those visiting the Pigeon Forge-Gatlinburg area, these free or affordable attractions are available:
• For $3, visitors can get a tour of a working flour mill that is nearly two centuries old located in the Old Mill District in Pigeon Forge which also features a candy store and some ducks to feed.
• The Great Smoky Mountains National Park has free admission to hike more than 800 miles of trails, splash in a waterfall and explore historical areas like Cades Cove.
• A Gatlinburg neighborhood contains art studios, galleries and other venues of interest where many artists are at work practicing their crafts, which include candles, baskets, quilts, brooms, pottery, jewelry, ceramics, silversmithing, leatherworks, stained glass and fine photography and watercolors.
• A bike path / greenway stretches four miles along a scenic stretch of the Little Pigeon River.
• The Little River Railroad and Lumber Company in nearby Townsend, Tenn. is a free museum open year-round and lets history buffs learn about a turn-of-the-century sawmill and the region’s logging heritage.
• For those who enjoy winter sports without the cold, Pigeon Forge Snow provides a 35,000-square-foot facility that can produce 7,000 cubic feet of real snow 365 days per year. The snow is made from pure water while the building’s interior maintains comfortable 65- to 70-degree temperatures.
In addition to the tubing hills, the youngsters can visit the play area where they can build snowmen.
If you go …
The Pigeon Forge/ Gatlinburg / Smoky Mountains area of eastern Tennessee can be reached from the Mahoning Valley via Interstates 76, 77, 81 and 40. The 560-mile drive takes a little longer than eight hours from the Youngstown-Warren area. For more information about the attractions and places to stay, log onto pigeon forge.com