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Parkway, trails crowded again as Sevier County welcomes tourists

This week, some cities and businesses resumed advertising to out-of-state tourists. In Gatlinburg, many of them did not wear masks or social distance.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn — In mid-March, Sevier County told tourists to stay away. Most shops, restaurants and attractions were closed down under Tennessee's "Safer At Home" order.

"This wasn't the best time to come," Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters told 10News on Thursday.  "We want them to come when it is safe."

As Tennessee Governor Bill Lee continues to relax restrictions on which businesses can operate, certain areas and attractions have resumed marketing to out-of-state tourists.

"We're not being aggressive about saying, you need to come to Pigeon Forge today... it's an emotional message," executive director of tourism for Pigeon Forge Leon Downey said. "It's more of a top of mind awareness type campaign to let people know that we're here."

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For the past few weekends, tourists have certainly gotten the message. The streets of Gatlinburg have filled with people, though many aren't wearing masks or practicing social distancing.

Credit: WBIR

In the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, spokesperson Dana Soehn said hikers who headed out early and chose less popular destinations were able to find ample opportunities for hiking without congestion last weekend.

Certain areas, like Rainbow Falls Trail, however, were problematic.

"Parking lots overflowed and people parked along the roadside for about a mile to access the trail," Soehn said in an email. "At these places, there seemed to be little regard for following social distancing guidance in the parking lots, destinations, and restroom areas."

This weekend, the road leading up to Rainbow Falls Trail was filled once again.

Credit: WBIR

"There was a lot [of people] on the way up [the trail], not as many on the way down," Melissa Osner said. "It was really, really full today."

She and her husband came from Indiana to enjoy the warm weather and nature.

"It was amazing," she said. "This was a lot different than anything we've ever done and a lot harder than we anticipated, but it was amazing."

The GSMNP said they will continue to push #SmokiesSafe messages to help people plan a safe visit. 

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