Why Townsend is the perfect place to escape COVID-19
Townsend, a small community in Blount County, is known as “The Peaceful Side of the Smokies,” and during the coronavirus pandemic, the quiet entrance to the mountains could be the perfect place for tourists to avoid the crowds in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg on their way to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The park was closed in March in reaction to the pandemic, but is now in a phased reopening period.
Townsend’s wide-open spaces, sparse population and scenic views make exploring the outdoors possible while still maintaining social distancing. Blount Partnership Director of Tourism Kim Mitchell told Knox News that visitors can “get back to nature” without the commercialized experience of Sevier County.
“Everything is just purely run by the people of our area, and you really get to engage yourself into that Appalachian culture that surrounds the park,” Mitchell said.
The one-red-light town is home to mom-and-pop shops and restaurants that rely on tourists, especially after some tough months this year. The road to Cades Cove, one of the most-visited parts of the Smokies, closed in January for tunnel repairs – though it was offseason, so Townsend businesses didn’t miss out on a great deal. However, when construction was finished, it was only about a month until the park closed because of the coronavirus.
“Townsend has had a double whammy this year,” Mitchell said. “It’s been hard, but we’re ready for tourists and excited to welcome them back.”
Steve Roper moved to Townsend four years ago and fell in love with the quiet town. He and his wife opened Little River Pub and Deli on Labor Day last year. They endured the slow winter months and the closure of the road to Cades Cove, but they had to close for more than a month because of the virus. He’s hopeful that more tourists will visit when the park opens, but it’ll never be the first year he imagined.
“People like to see tourists come into town because that’s what makes Townsend exist. Without tourism Townsend wouldn’t be much of anything,” Roper told Knox News. “It’s the lifeblood of this community.”
As GSMNP reopens, Townsend businesses will be there for visitors as well. The town has everything for outdoor enthusiasts including hiking and biking trails, horseback riding stables, Little River and Tuckaleechee Caverns. Or, visitors can stay in their cars and explore the mountains by driving on Foothills Parkway which goes right through the Smokies.
Townsend has plenty of safe places to stay, too. Cabins, campgrounds and RV parks allow privacy and social distancing among tourists. The Townsend Visitors Center, located right outside GSMNP, is open on weekdays with staff available to answer questions from visitors and provide information about things to do and see in the community.
“The Peaceful Side of the Smokies” offers a stress-free passage into to the national park, and Townsend’s small size is just what residents and visitors love about this hidden gem in East Tennessee.
“At nighttime, the town shuts down. People go back to their campers and their rooms. They sit by the fire and next to the river, and they just relax,” Roper said. “That’s really the goal – to keep it that way.”
Source: Knoxville News Sentinel
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Published May 20, 2020