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Free masks available from Pigeon Forge, Gatlinburg businesses this weekend

Governor, state tourism director said Thursday businesses had rallied together in Pigeon Force, Sevierville, Gatlinburg to provide the free masks.

Visitors to Sevier County may find something free Friday as they stop by attractions that are reopening -- a face mask.

Gov. Bill Lee and state tourism director Mark Ezell said Thursday the towns of Pigeon Force, Gatlinburg and Sevierville had rallied to provide "thousands" of free masks made this week that'll be available to customers starting Friday.

It's part of an effort to encourage proper safety steps while also welcoming people to spend money in the tourism meccas. Millions of visitors -- from inside Tennessee and outside it -- come to Sevier County every year because of the mountains, shopping and an array of tourist attractions.

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Some attractions are still closed, such as crowd-pleaser Dollywood. But others are set to reopen, such as Ripley's businesses in Gatlinburg.

There've been complaints and concerns that some customers aren't wearing masks or practicing smart social distancing in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge.

Also, starting Friday, Lee has approved a further relaxation of restrictions that will permit restaurants to go to full capacity if they want. Big attractions can also open.

"We appreciate the folks of Sevier County being ready," said Mark Ezell, state tourism development director.

Lee said Thursday the state has to get back to business. Sevier County is one place it's paid particular attention to because so many visitors are drawn to it.

"We want our economy to open back up," Lee said. "We hope that people will in fact engage with businesses here in Tennessee."