The tourism season unofficially kicked off for the year Saturday as the first weekend of the 16th annual Townsend in Smokies Spring Festival and Old Timer’s Day was held at the Townsend Visitor’s Center.
“It was a typical crowd for the first weekend and, of course, we experienced just a little cloudiness and rain but we had the usual crowd,” Herb Handly, vice president of the Blount County Convention and Visitor’s Bureau. “The first weekend is generally the smaller of the two weekends so the crowd is historically a little lighter.”
Handly said the weather was perfect at the visitor’s center on East Lamar Alexander Parkway. “It seemed like the crowd was very enthusiastic. We think we’re warming up for a big weekend this weekend,” he said.
The annual barbecue cookoff is scheduled for this weekend. “It will be ‘people’s choice,’ so people will be voting for the best barbecue,” Handly said. “It looks like we have six or seven teams so we’re expecting a large crowd.”
With the festival kicking off, tourism season is in full swing. “The big thing is when schools close and families can start taking vacations. Some are out earlier than others but this festival generally begins to kick off the season,” Handly said.
Handly said that while the season is just beginning, it will grow for several months. “We will build as we get into June and July, which are our big months. That’s when the real generation of hotel/motel taxes really begins. This is a good time,” he said.
As the second weekend of the spring festival starts, Handly said the bureau is watching fuel prices. “While we think generally, high gas prices tend to help us, we know there is a limit that people can afford to pay and we’re watching this very closely,” he said. “Our hopes are gas prices will encourage people to travel to a closer destination and we are a very central destination.”
Handly said another aspect of Townsend that many enjoyed this past weekend were the wildflowers. “The wildflowers are obviously in bloom and a lots of folks are doing wildflower walks,” he said. “There has been an extreme display of wildflowers and there are still many out. This is an exciting time of the year to be able to see the wildflowers.”
The convention and visitor’s bureau vice president said that the stimulus checks coming out soon might be a boon to the tourists’ destinations in Blount County. “It’s our feeling those checks will be helpful to the tourist industry. They’re coming as people are making plans or going on vacation,” he said.
While families often cut back fiscally to make ends meet, often the family vacation is one expense that families choose not to cut back on. “We hope these checks will help them make the decision to get out and travel.”
On the weekends of the festival, visitors enjoy bluegrass music and jamming, Appalachian demonstrations and exhibits, wildflower walks and hikes, antique cars on May 2 and 3, arts and crafts booths, food booths and the “Smokin’ in the Smokies” People’s Choice Barbeque contest on May 2 and 3.
Featured authors, book signings, storytelling and Appalachian demonstrations
• Mountain Berry Basket Making and Poetry: Bill Alexander
• Lye Soap Making and Old Time Skills: Sallie Swor
• Bee Keeping and Bee Hive Observation: Tony Holt
• Cornmeal Making: Ronald Fowler
• Cades Cove Preservation Association Exhibits
• Clogging Demonstration and Instruction: the Pattons
• Clogging Lessons
• Old Fashioned Kids’ Games
• Ijams Nature Center
• Dowsing Demonstrations
• Cades Cove Preservation Association Exhibit
• Cake Walk and Bake Sale: Hearts and Hands Scholarship Fund
• Arts and Crafts Demonstrations in the Exhibit Room:
• Basketry: Bonny Kate Sugg
• Woodcarving: Lendel Abbott
• Quilting: Ila Mae Morton, Dorothy Belcher, and Maetta Conrad
• Rug Hooking: Carol McBride
• Weaving: Effie Suttles
• Spinning: Dale Liles
• Charcoal/Pencil Art: Andy England
Friday, May 2: Great Smoky Mountains National Park Day
A day of appreciation of the beauty, diversity, and history of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and surrounding natural areas, plus music, crafts, and Appalachian skills.
• 10 a.m.-4 p.m.: Traditional mountain music with Carl and Betty Ross
• 10 a.m.: Hedgewood Gardens tour
• 2 p.m.: Hedgewood Gardens tour
• 1 p.m.: The National Parks Centennial, presentation by Emily Jones
• 3 p.m.-5 p.m.: “Birth of the National Park” walk with Ann Froschauer
Saturday, May 3: Old Timers Day
A tradition of picnics, music, relaxing, and remembering the olden days in Cades Cove and Townsend in the morning, plus music, crafts, and Appalachian skills.
• 8 a.m.-10 a.m.: Townsend Bird Walk with Mark Dunaway
• 10 a.m.-5 p.m.: “Bird Songs of the Smokies CD signing, Mark Dunaway
• 6 p.m.: “”Smokin’ in the Smokies” People’s Choice BBQ awards