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"Dry park" addition planned for Wilderness at the Smokies

4:54 PM, Oct 13, 2011   |    comments
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The Wilderness at the Smokies resort is planning a multi-million dollar expansion.

The resort is known for its large indoor/outdoor waterparks.  Officials announced Thursday their plans to build a "dry park," complete with miniature golf, arcade, bowling, a ropes course, and other activities.  It will be connected to the waterpark.

Since Wildnerness opened it's meant big revenue for Sevier County.  The resort says during certain periods 41% of its guests have never visited Sevier County before.  The resort also says a Sevierville Chamber of Commerce estimate shows more than $3.5 million in tax revenue can be attributed to the resort.

Across the street from Wildnerness, Jon Riggs and the staff at Smoky Mountain Helicopters says the move is good news for them.

"Yeah, quite a few people come to us from over there," Riggs said.  "We get a lot of families, a lot of kids."

The expansion makes Wilderness at the Smokies the 2nd largest investor in Sevier County tourism behind Dollywood, according to the resort.

"We have repeatedly in the 3 1/2 years we've operated, added on and invested in multimillion dollar additions to the resort," RicK Laney, Spokesman for Wilderness at the Smokies said.  "This is by far the largest investment we've made since we opened."

The expansion will cover 7 new acres of land.  The dry park will, at times, be open to the general public for an admission charge.  The waterpark is for hotel guests only.

The resort has seen steady and often bustling business since that initial $100 million investment 4 years ago.   Despite a still sluggish economy, March of this year was the busiest single month for the resort since it opened.  They believe big things are still to come for the area of Sevier County closest the Interstate 40.

"The growth potential, in terms of open land and area for growth is certainly at the north end.  Gatlinburg is backed up against the National Park and in some of those areas they're simply running out of space," Laney said.

"It doesn't surprise me at all.  If I had a little coin, I'd invest in the place," Riggs said.

Officials are hoping to start construction very soon, and plan to open next spring.

The expansion will also add jobs.  Around 50 new employees will be hired during peak summer months, 30 during the off-season.

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