Ep. 49 – Arts and Crafts Community and Outdoor Classes

SHOW #49  January 4, 2014


This week on Episode 49 Smoky Mountains Radio, An update on Jack, The Arts and Craft Community in Gatlinburg, and outdoor classes to get you ready to hike.   Let’s Go!


It is Sunday, January 4, 2015 and this is episode 49 of SMR.  Happy New Year to everyone!  Hope you had a great and safe new year, and are ready as I am to see what 2015 has in store. I am your host Mike, and My goal for the show is to give you the insight and information that you need to have a great trip to the Smoky Mountains.  Whether you are hiking, staying in the towns, or taking in the attractions, I hope to have something here to help you have a great trip.  And if you are a Smoky Mountains veteran, I hope that you find the content entertaining and perhaps a little nostalgic.  If nothing else, you can turn to the person next to you and say, “I already knew that” with a smug air.    If this is your first time joining us, welcome aboard and thanks for taking the time to listen. We’ve been waiting on you.   And hey, good to be back with all of you that have been with me for awhile.  Always good to be back with you my friends.  I’d like to thank Curt and George for liking the show this week on Facebook and Ed for following on twitter as well as all of you that have followed the show on social media.  To go along with that, I invite you to check out our website, SMR.com.  There you will find a wealth of information including hikes from all over the Great Smoky Mountains including length, difficulty, and a short description of what you will see and and can expect as you hit the trails.  If you are planning on staying in one of the surrounding towns, you can find information about those as well.  You can contact me directly by emailing me at mike@smokymountansradio.com, on Facebook at facebook.com/smokymountainsradio or on twitter @smokies_radio.  You can also call the listener line at 865-325 9784.  Finally, of course, every one of our shows can be found on the website for you to stream or download. Of course, you can make sure you get episodes the moment they are released by subscribing to the show via iTunes or stitcher.  Leave me a review while you are there.  Those links can also be found on SMR.com.  If you have anything you would like me to cover on the show, please feel free to contact me at any time.  Again, all the ways to reach me are right on the website at SMR.com

Let’s get on with the show.

A Quick Update on Jack

I wanted to give everyone an update on listener and contributor to the show, Jack.  Jack did start the AT on the 3rd when he planned to.  For those of you who are familiar with the AT, he did decide to take the approach trail at Amicalola Falls which is a bruising nearly 9 miles of trail that does not even count as part of the AT.  But the only other choice is a windy mountain gravel road to take you to the start.  I’ve not taken that road, but I here it is not good.  But back to Jack.  He did make to the top of Springer mountain and has said he was planning on continuing to the next shelter, but ended up staying at the shelter at Springer Mountain.  He said the weather was actually pretty decent.  Not too cold and no snow, so that is a good start.  Perhaps more importantly, he said no rain!  If any of you out there are gear nuts, you might like knowing that his pack weighed 42 pounds including water and 4 days of food and a tent.

I will be curious to see what he ends up tossing to get his pack weight down over the next few days.  So anyway, he is on the move.  All the best to you Jack.  Not sure if he will be listening along the way or not, but he will be checking email at least periodically, so either way, good luck buddy!

Arts and Crafts Community

I’ll admit that I do take a lot of shots at t-shirt shops and other novelty type of places in Gatlinburg.  Some of it is just bad humor, some of it is the pure sarcasm that I am known for, and some of it is just that I miss a lot of what old Gatlinburg had.  Much of what it was is what brought people to this town over the years.  I like many of the new places, but I am nostalgic and some parts of the Gatlinburg of old.  Some of this was starting to go as I was just a child.  By the time I was a teenager, the transformation was almost complete.  What am speaking of is the arts and crafts community in Gatlinburg.

Back in the late 50’s and ending for the most part in the early to mid 80’s, the strip in Gatlinburg was an amazing place to see local artists work.  Painters like Iva Prince among many, many other could actually be seen painting along the sidewalks in town.  Some had their own shops, some did it right from the street.  You could hear and smell the wood cutters with their chainsaws and other tools fashioning treasures from woodcarvings to furniture right before your eyes.  Sculptors, painters, and so much more could be found here.  But so many of these guys were just the little entrepreneur that had either lived their all their life or moved to be near it and either way were moved by their surroundings and created great things that happened to sell.  But progress has a way of pushing the little guy away.  Think about all the small grocery stores that existed before walmart.  Again, “progress” said bye bye to all those small town chains, and this was in many ways no different.

But unlike those mom and pop grocery chains that folded completely when the Walmarts of the world came along, many of those artists in the Gatlinburg area were able to adapt.  A few, very few, can be found in the little shops along the strip, but most have been moved out and replaced with t-shirt shops, among many other businesses.  It would be quite an exaggeration to make it sound like a trail of tears, but they kind of had to relocate in a manner similar to keep going.  And so they did.  There was a shop here, a studio there.  Some retreated to their homes and just sold their wares from there (and some still do today).  And this adaptation and rebranding eventually helped bring back this vital part of the Smoky Mountains experience back and it eventually became the Arts and Crafts Community.  Not all of the shops in the area were kicked to the curb from main town.  Some had always been there.  Others banded together for survival, strength in numbers.  But it worked.  They are still going strong today.  They have been infiltrated in recent years buy a couple of shops that are in my opinion not arts nor crafts and 100 percent junk, but overall, the place has a great selection of local, handmade arts and crafts.

The people are another great part of what makes this place terrific.  Artists love to talk shop.  They will tell you all about how they did something or why, and it really personalizes any purchase you make there.  Legendary painters in the area like Iva Prince who has been painting literally for generations here in the Smokies, or woodworkers that have transplanted to the area like Tim Weberding.  By the way, both are two of my favorites.  Be sure to stop by their studios when you go.

One thing to note about this community is that it is nothing like Gatlinburg or even Pigeon Forge.  You will not be able to walk to everything around here.  There are a few stores here, a few there, and one down this road, etc.  The main part of the arts and crafts community starts of Highway 321 in Gatlinburg like you are heading towards the Greenbrier and Cosby area.  From this point, you will see some of the shops that are part of the community, but the main part of it is an 8 mile loop that will start on your left side of the road about a mile after you turn onto the road.  From here, you will see shops by themselves or in groups of ten or twelve in little pockets along the way.  None of these little pockets are really in walking distance to each other, so having a car is really essential.  The trolley does run through the area.  At last check, it was a buck a piece to ride through the area, but I don’t recommend it.  I do like the trolley, but you will wait around way too much for a trolley when you make your stops here, so you are much better off just driving your own vehicle.

If you are looking for a time frame to do the loop, if you decide to take your time and see most of what they have to offer, you could easily spend half the day there.  I would plan to spend at least a couple of hours going through though.  Not everything will appeal to you.  You may not like pottery or jewelry makers, that will axe several, or perhaps you don’t like woodworking, that eliminates others.  But even if you stop to see the majority, the one thing that will happen for sure is that they will start to run together.  It’s kinda like when you are house hunting and after several houses you can’t remember which is which.  There are maps of these places so I would recommend marking places on the map that you really liked or want to revisit and even makes notes on the page.  I wish I had done this during our last outing.  There was an art studio that I really enjoyed, but I can’t remember the name of the place or where it was.  Taking a photo on your cell could also help with that too.  There’s a 21st century solution for you.  But I didn’t think of it, so as usual, learn from my mistakes.

Many people love the big town Gatlinburg has become.  That’s one of the many reasons why it continues to be wildly popular and yearly there is a new experience along the strip.  But if you want to get away from that for awhile, the arts and crafts community is an excellent option.  You just won’t find the stuff they offer anywhere else.  Much of it is one of a kind, most of it is made in town instead of in China (though you can still find some of that), and I think it’s all worth checking out.  If you are bringing kids and perhaps even teenagers, it is likely that they will not be at all impressed or interested by and large.  But hey, everything does not need be for them.  They have their go carts, laser tag, mini golf, and everything else back in town.  This one can be for you and perhaps they will pick up a new hobby or passion along the way.

Okay, so the most important information you might need.  Restrooms are numerous throughout the area.  Nearly every little group of places has a restroom or two, and they are not difficult to find.  Also, there are places to eat scattered here and there as you make your way along the loop.  The choices are not abundant, but you will find enough options while you are driving to give you something you will like.  My last bit of advice on this is when to go.  Like I said, most of these places will not keep set hours like your stores at home.  They have flexibility in their jobs, and they will take advantage of that.  So if there are places you want to make sure are open when you go, try to go during the middle of the day in the afternoon hours.  Going first thing in the morning will see several places closed since they don’t all open at the same time.  Lunch time is a little bit hit and miss.  Some of them take off for lunch, but most eat at their shops.  Mid-morning to mid-afternoon is the best time I have found to catch as many of them as possible.  The other strategy I have found is to go when more people are going to be there.  This may sound like a no brainer, but early january on a week day around lunch time is going to see plenty of them not in.  They want to spend their time at shop when plenty of people are going to be around.  Weekends are the best time obviously.  Fridays are also good, but if that’s not an option for you, use the time I talked about just a minute ago.  However you do it, I don’t think you will be disappointed at all.  Check it out on your next trip to the Smokies.

I’ll put more info about this in this week’s show notes and on SMR.com

Classes for Hiking

When we start hiking, it is unlike many activities that we do in our normal lives.  When I started playing music, I had a teacher to show me the proper techniques and materials that I needed.  When I started playing basketball, I had a coach to tell me how to properly dribble, shooting technique, defense, and the like.  Most of you have i’m sure had the same experiences in whatever you have taken up.  For most of us, hiking is very different from other activities.  You might end up on a hike with family, or just wander your way onto a trail.  How hard can it be, right?  You have been walking your entire life.  Hiking is basically just harder walking is it not?

I’ll be honest.  I have had to try my hand at things I thought would work well over the years only to realize that I had made huge mistakes.  Out of that was one of the reason for me to start this show.  There’s no reason you need to go through the same mistakes.  And if you already have, then we can laugh about them together.

But getting back to the original point, most of us don’t get a how to manual on how to hike.  We usually learn from family or learn as we go along ourselves.  For example, my dad is old school.  Not old…just in case you are listening pop.  But when he started hiking, there wasn’t much except rucksacks and external frame backpacks.  As a result, that is what he prefers to this day.  He has tried a couple of internal frame packs.  They just don’t feel right to him.  As always, hike your own hike.  But he still hikes to this day mostly in cotton, which I hate completely, but he hikes mostly day hikes with the family, so if that’s his preference.  Go for it.  I’ve seen people on the AT in cotton.  Granted, very few, but they are out there.  But wouldn’t it be nice if we could all just get it right the first time?  This is where hiking classes come in.

Hiking classes come in all shapes, sizes, topics, and locations, but the goal is generally the same in all of them.  They give you the best tools to be a better, safer, and happier backpacker.  Let’s say you don’t like next to the mountains, well that’s okay. You can find these classes all over the country.  I looked this week just to be sure.  So what are these classes really going to do for you?  Let’s get into it.

The first thing I would say is to check what you are going to.  If it is a class sponsored by a store, make sure it is not just a high pressure sales pitch to get rid of all the extra gregory backpacks or north face fleeces they have left over.  I have found that most reputable places don’t do this.  They know that if they sell you crap you don’t want or need once, you won’t come back as a customer the next time you need gear.  Repeat business and word of mouth is how these places are able to compete with online retailers that might be a little cheaper than the physical stores.

There are places all over the Smokies that run these classes.  Rangers have them in the park, the NOC in Gatlinburg sponsors a lot of them.  They are held in Townsend, Cosby, not to mention the huge outdoor festival that they have yearly in Pigeon Forge, but they are also all over the places in outdoor stores and hiking clubs in Montana, Arkansas, Florida, and even Kansas.

One of the most obvious place to start your search is an outdoor store that has some specialty with hiking like an REI.  REI’s classes are among the best that I have attended over the years.  They either use staff on hand that has experience in what you are looking for or bring in people from the region.  I have been to classes at my REI on lightweight hiking, logistics for hiking the AT, food prep on the trail, and a few others.  Most of them have been great.  So whatever store you have nearby, see if that is something they offer.  Sometimes you will find that they are free, other times there will be a fee, but if it is an interesting subject, give it a try.  I’ve always picked up something from these sessions that I had not thought of before.  I have also found that chains don’t always offer the same thing store to store, so if the one closest to you offers nothing, check another.

Another great resource that often offers classes in hiking are local hiking clubs.  These are far more common than outdoor stores in some places, so they are a great way to get together with like-minded people in your area, even if there are no mountains within a 100 miles of where you live.  I have gone to a hiking club in Nashville that brought in a thru hiker for a talk about his experiences and that offered some great stuff, and they often plan trips as a hiking club to local places to hike.  This is all good stuff.  And perhaps even better, with a hiking club, you get perspective of a bunch of people all at once.  I am currently part of a hiking club that has roughly a hundred people.  That is a lot of people to bounce ideas off of when I decide that I want to try a new piece of gear.

Finally, if you are looking for a hiking class and no matter what you do, you can’t find a class at any local outfitter or hiking club, despair not, there is still another option.  Sometimes these clubs or outfitters will either live stream for free or a fee these classes.  A simply google search will help you find these, but that is a great option from the comfort of your living room.  Along those lines, search youtube and other hiking sites for videos on the matter.  I have seen several online, including several seminars taken by great hikers during Trail Days in Damascus.

Hope that gives you an idea of where to get some great reputable information on what you want to tackle next in your evolution as a hiker.  As always, feel free to contact me personally if you want more information or you would like help pointing you in the right direction.

I’ll put more info about this in our show notes and on Smoky Mountains radio.com


No Spotlight Hike of the Week this week.  I decided to get our ducks in a row this week and just give you some good info.  But if that is what you look forward to most, despair not my friends.  I will have an all new hike for you next week.  Thanks to everyone for checking out this episode of Smoky Mountains Radio.  I’d like to wish a happy new year once again to everyone and I hope your 2015 is a time of great happiness and plenty of trips to the Smokies.  Contact me on SMR.com to leave me a question or comment about the show or if there is just something you would like for me to cover during the show.   So until next time, have a great week everyone, and as always my friends……go take a hike!

@smokies_radio on twitter

Theme music provided by “The Breakmen”  and their terrific song, “KM19″

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