A new Gatlinburg attraction is offering the community more than just tree-top fun.
The Anakeesta adventure park opened its doors on Sept. 1. The 72-acre park features zip lines and a tree-top canopy walk. But, staff at the park also felt it was important to acknowledge the aftermath of the November Sevier County wildfires.
Anakeeta’s Memorial Forest Walk pays tribute to the victims who lost everything in the fires. The solemn walk features placards explaining when and how the fires started and spread. The trail also displays photographer Jeremy Cowart’s "Voices of Gatlinburg" pictures, telling the stories of victims.
"I think it was just very important to commemorate this spot and this moment in time and to educate people because they are standing here seeing the results of the fire," said Marketing Director and Anakeesta Partner Michele Canney.
The night of the fires, Canney and her family had to scale down the burning mountain side to escape flames. Her home burned to the ground.
"I am very blessed that we are ok. I think about how fortunate we are when 14 other people were not," Canney said. She added that her family is lucky the house was not her primary home.
“I know so many people lost everything that they had,” she said.
Because of how the fires impacted staff at Anakeesta, staff decided to change the park’s design. Originally, the trail was supposed to lead to a wedding chapel.
“It was very important to us to also talk about the recovery of the forest and the recovery of the town and how we really are Mountain Tough,” Canney said.
“People are quieter on the walk. They’re not running and yelling. I think they are absorbing the forest around them, what happened to the forest,” Bob Bentz, managing partner at Anakeesta, said.
It’s an opportunity to reflect on what happened back in November and how it impacted both people and the environment. The City of Gatlinburg, the Great Smoky Mountain National Park and the Gatlinburg Fire Department all weighed in on the project.
“I am so proud of what we have done here in terms of the exhibit,” Canney said, “I am proud of the accuracy of the story of the night of the fire.”
Admission to take the Chondola to view the Memorial Forest Walk is $19.99 for adults and $15.99 for children.