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Sevier County economy not hurting two years after wildfires

Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge's economies were impacted by the wildfires in 2016, but it didn't take long to get back to normal.

Two years ago the Sevier County wildfires had the potential to destroy the county's economy. Luckily, the county bounced back tremendously and people are visiting the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in record numbers.

"The business community started panicking and didn't really know what to do," Leon Downey, the Director of Tourism for Pigeon forge, said.

After the fires one message echoed was that the county needed people to come back in order to thrive.

Now, two years later, it's tourists like Charlene Soerries that have contributed to what's being called a booming economy.

"I'm really surprised. I was expecting to see a lot of black earth and trees gone and buildings gone," Charlene Soerries said.

As far as tourism in the The Great Smoky Mountains National Park the fires didn't seem to slow down traffic.

These are the number of park visitors over the last 3 years.

2015: 10,712,674

2016: 11,312,785

2017: 11,338,894

The last three years broke park visitation records and park officials are confident they will break the record again this year.

Most of the people who visit the park visit Gatlinburg according to city officials. Those visitors are still curious about the fires.

"They thought the park burned down. It was very hard. It took a long time for the people to realize the park was open," Jan Caughron, a park volunteer, said.

Despite the temporary roadblock, Sevier County came out on top when it comes to the economy, and out-of-state visitors don't even seem to notice what happened in 2016.

"I can't tell that there's any effect on the economy today. It's really a great place to visit," Charlene Soerries said.

When it comes to businesses in Gatlinburg since the wildfires in 2016 -- 335 news business licenses have been issued. They say it's a promising sign for the future of the community and it's tourism industry.

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