Kurt Volker – guest writer
It’s perhaps Macon County’s best kept secret. Signs along the Georgia Road just south of downtown Franklin alert motorists to the oasis that is the Smoky Mountain Visitor Center and Rest Area.
But when’s the last time you actually stopped and went inside? Unless you’re a tourist, probably rarely or never. A surprise waiting for you.
Smoky Mountain Host of North Carolina opened its doors to the public in October 1987.
“Our function is to promote travel and tourism in Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon, and Swain counties, along with the Cherokee Indian Reservation,” says Martha Messer, manager of Visitor Services and Administrative Support.
Located at 4437 Georgia Road, the Center offers a variety of informative brochures, books, DVDs, CDs, crafts from local artisans, and a host of other gift items from their extensive gift shop collection.
“Whether you’re interested in fishing some of the most pristine waters in the southeast, exploring our many waterfalls, or hiking to the top of one of our lush mountains with your family, we’ll help you get there,” said Messer.
When visitors step into the facility, senses are heightened by the aromas of locally roasted Tribal Grounds coffee that can be purchased by the cup or bag. Add to that the tantalizing scents of pottery candles crafted by a local Cherokee Indian known as “Walking Bear” and the visitors are tempted to linger awhile.
“Our gift shop also carries jewelry crafted by local artisans, books, puzzles, wine bottle lamps, and a variety of T-shirts and jackets,” Messer says, “and on weekends during the year, we have live entertainment from local musicians, just another example of that down home feeling you experience when you visit.”
Each year Smoky Mountain Host publishes its annual Travel Guide in which visitors can chart their personal adventure in any of Western North Carolina’s seven counties.
“We average nearly 80,000 visitors at our center each year and are very pleased with the feedback we’ve received from our patrons regarding the quality, cost, and variety of items we carry in our gift shop,” Messer remarks.
Information on the Visitor Center is also available on various social media including Facebook.com/SmokyMountainHost, Twitter@VisitSmokies, Pinterest.com/VisitSmokies, and YouTube.com/user/SmokyMountainHost.