Ken Jenkins had no idea that a vision he held would become a major event when he met with Leon Downey, director of the Pigeon Forge Department of Tourism, over 25 years ago. An idea he felt would be a natural partner with the newly created Winterfest.
Mr. Jenkins had begun evening programs at his studio to share his knowledge of the Great Smoky Mountains wilderness and wildlife to anyone who was interested in learning.
Mr. Downey thought there might be an interest in such a program and on January 19, 1991 the first Wilderness Wildlife program was held as a half-day seminar complete with a luncheon. Approximately 60 people were in attendance and, as Mr. Downey put it, “We had to buy them lunch to get them there.” It has resulted in one of the most important lunches the Tourism Department has ever bought.
This year Wilderness Wildlife Week is celebrating its 25th anniversary at the new LeConte Center. A complimentary lunch is no longer on the docket, but just about everything else is free. There are so many activities in progress no one person could attend every event.
So many people have donated their time and energy to present programs, lectures, demonstrations, working on guided hikes and assisting behind the scenes that Wilderness Wildlife Week has become a major tourist event attracting visitors from across the United States, Canada, Australia, England, China and New Zealand.
There was a little snow on the ground Saturday morning but the LeConte Center parking lot was full. As one lady remarked as she entered the building, “What’s a little snow? Hey, it’s winter, isn’t it?”
The LeConte Center is filled to capacity with exhibits, workshops and classes that are both informative and entertaining. Music lovers will enjoy daily performances which highlight music from the Appalachians and Smoky Mountains.
One event drawing regional interest due to magazine coverage is the Southern Trout Fly Fishing Fair, only on January 31. Don Kirk, formerly of Morristown and a past columnist of the Knoxville Journal, now the publisher of the Southern Trout and Southern Kayak Magazines, is bringing in an all-star crew to focus on fly fishing in Tennessee waters with seminars, booths and demonstrations.
And what would a Smoky Mountain event be without a discussion on the making of moonshine, Friday at 3:30 p.m.
The information desk is open daily from 7:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m. The vendor/exhibit hall is open daily form 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m.