PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (April 2015) – For five days in May, you can learn about bears and trout, hone your nature photography skills, join a celebration of gospel singing, discover your artistic side, and even meet President Franklin Roosevelt – all for free.
The occasion is the 26th annual Wilderness Wildlife Week, Pigeon Forge’s salute to Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Mother Nature and the heritage of the Southern Appalachians. Dates are May 18-22 at the LeConte Center at Pigeon Forge.
For its first quarter-century, Wilderness Wildlife Week was a January event, and 2016 marks its move to springtime.
“Moving to spring opens the door to visitors who were reluctant to travel in winter. It also lets us introduce a variety of new programs,” said Leon Downey, executive director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, which organizes the week filled with more than 250 programs and 40 hikes, field trips and excursions in the national park and surrounding area.
Event manager Butch Helton said 2016 is special because this is the centennial year of the National Park Service, and Great Smoky Mountains National Park is the system’s most visited park. More than 10 million guests visit the 800-square-mile park every year.
“We’re going to do our part to help more people understand and be active in our treasured neighbor,” Helton said.
President Roosevelt appears courtesy of actor Gary Stamm. Stamm’s keynote program on May 18, “A Fireside Chat with FDR: Celebrating a Century of the National Park Service,” will recall Roosevelt’s dedication of Great Smoky Mountains National Park in 1940.
An array of programs fills all five days. Among the topics:
- 900 Miles and Then Some: A Hiking Journal
- Logging Railroads of the Smokies
- Waterfalls of the Southern Appalachians
- Turn Your Photography into Art
- Recording the Smokies: An Audio Journal
- Leave No Trace: Principles of Outdoor Ethics
- Fly Fishing the Smokies
- Bears in the Back Seat
- Painting the Smokies
- Moonshine: The Past, Present and Future
- A Miller’s Life (about the historic Old Mill in Pigeon Forge)
- Birds of Prey Live Bird Show
- The Art of Dowsing: Do You Have the Gift?
- Gospel Music of the Smokies
Experts in numerous fields donate their time to deliver programs. Among them are current and retired National Park Service rangers, wildlife experts, artists, local historians and musicians.
In addition to FDR, evening programs include “Heaven and Nature Sing,” a presentation from Wilderness Wildlife Week creator Ken Jenkins; Dr. Bill Bass about the University of Tennessee’s famous “Body Farm”; and “Tales From Lost,” recollections from retired backcountry ranger Dwight McCarter about searches for people lost in the wilderness.
Complementing those programs is a series of hikes in the national park and field trips to destinations such as the American Eagle Foundation’s research and rehabilitation facility
On May 21, the first Appalachian Homecoming is planned at Patriot Park. This is a celebration of music, storytelling, children’s games and antique tractors. The Cades Cove Preservation Association will have a fundraising picnic, capped at 200 dinners, in conjunction with the event.
Wilderness Wildlife Week attracts people from throughout the U.S. A voluntary sign-up sheet in 2015 identified visitors from 28 states. The most distant were from Alaska, California, New York and Wyoming.
Information about all aspects of visiting Pigeon Forge is online at MyPigeonForge.com and by calling 800-251-9100.
Tom Adkinson, APR