Wet and Wild
Wilderness at the Smokies in Sevierville, Tenn.
By Sutton Stokes
During these times of economic trouble, many vacationers are scaling back their plans and sticking closer to home. Though such a trend is hurting some tourism destinations, it seems to be working out well for Wilderness at the Smokies, a resort in eastern Tennessee that opened in June 2008.
"Most of our customers come from a 300-mile radius," said David McGregor, the general manager at Wilderness at the Smokies. "These days, it's better to be a regional destination than a national destination. The downturn has affected us, but not as much as it has affected attractions that people travel further for."
Wilderness at the Smokies is the latest project of the Wilderness Development Corp., whose previous ventures include a 600-acre water park and resort complex in Wisconsin Dells, Wis. called Wilderness Territory. Wilderness at the Smokies, the group's first foray outside Wisconsin, is part of a larger development called Bridgemont, a joint effort between the city of Sevierville, Tenn., and private partners.
Bridgemont, which includes Sevierville's new Events Center, is close to Interstate 40 in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, near Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge. Once completed, Bridgemont will include amenities such as 36 holes of golf, restaurants, a mall and a large Bass Pro store, in addition to the overnight lodging and other attractions offered by Wilderness at the Smokies.
Accommodations at Wilderness at the Smokies include hotel rooms, multi-room suites and condominiums. Guests and residents of Wilderness at the Smokies have exclusive access to a 40,000-square-foot outdoor waterpark called Salamander Springs and a 60,000-square-foot indoor water park called the Wild WaterDome. Another outdoor waterpark, Lake Wilderness, opened in June 2009.
The marquee attraction at Salamander Springs is a four-story water-play structure by SCS Interactive called Lunker's Landing. The structure is equipped with two water slides, 50 play-and-spray features, and a 750-gallon tipping bucket. (A similar feature inside the Wild WaterDome, also designed by SCS Interactive, is called Washout Mountain.)
Though Lunker's Landing has zero-depth entry and little standing water, making it accessible even for small children, Ellis-certified lifeguards monitor activity and enforce a 42-inch minimum-height requirement on the structure's slides. Parents who prefer not to get wet can keep an eye on their children from an adjacent dry area. The structure's tipping bucket is its most eye-catching component, with a bell that rings 15 seconds before each water dump.
"Kids just love the bucket," McGregor said. "When that bell rings, they come running."