Blount County Natural Attractions: Tuckaleechee Caverns

June 23, 2017   -   0 comments

Tuckaleechee Caverns Filled with Natural Wonder Under the Smokies

If you’re looking for somewhere to take the family this summer that’s a little off the beaten track, consider the Tuckaleechee Caverns. Billed as the “Greatest Site Under the Smokies”, these caverns were carved out by Mother Nature somewhere between 20 and 30 million years ago.

The Early Days

In 1931, the Tuckaleechee Caverns were first opened to the public but were soon closed again as the country struggled under the “Great Depression”.  However, two young boys, W.E. “Bill” Vananda and Harry Myers, both residents of Townsend, spent their youth playing near the entrance to the caverns as well as exploring them. By the time they graduated from Maryville College in 1949 the young men had decided they wanted to once again open the caverns to the public as a tourist attraction.

The two couples, Bill and Golden Vananda, and Harry and Nita Myers continued to operate the Tuckaleechee Caverns together until 1982. Each couple would run the business on alternate days to keep them open 7 days a week. However, in 1982 the Myers sold their half to the Vanandas.

It took them four long, hard years to carry the cement, gravel, and sand on their backs needed to build the passageways and steps needed to tour the caverns. But, in 1953 the two were able to realize their dream as the Tuckaleechee Caverns were finally once again open to the public. In 1955, a group of spelunkers discovered the “Big Room” that is 400 feet long by 150 feet deep and 300 feet across.

Some of the stalagmites in this room measure more than 24 feet tall. When you stop to think about the fact that a stalagmite grows at the rate of approximately 1 cubic inch per hundred years, it gives you an idea of how old many of them in these caverns are.  The Silver Falls located deep in the newest section of the caverns drops over 200 feet and is a double waterfall. Unfortunately, visitors can only see the lower section of the falls, the upper section can only be seen by looking into the lighted upper room.

If You are Going to Visit

The Tuckaleechee Caverns are open from March 15th to November 15th every day from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. They are open to all ages with over 50,000 visitors coming to enjoy the beauty every year. The only things you need to bring with you are a good pair of hiking shoes, your camera, a light jacket, and plenty of bottled water as it can take up to 2 hours to complete the tour.

To date over 8,350 caves have been discovered in the state of Tennessee. The Tuckaleechee Caverns are some of the biggest and most beautiful. When Bill and Harry first opened them up to the public back in 1949, they had 2,000 visitors. Now the many more thousands of people that  come to see the beautiful caverns and amazing formations every year can do so due to Bill and Harry’s hard work and vision. Isn’t it time you saw what was hiding under your feet?

Blount County Family Fun – Mtn Trax ATV Tours in Townsend, TN

June 20, 2017   -   0 comments

Mtn Trax ATV Tours in Townsend, TN Take a Ride on the Wild Side

When you are ready to tear the family away from their electronics and get them out into the amazing Tennessee air, there are a number of activities to choose from, like walking, hiking, fishing, and touring the local towns in a UTV, with seating for the whole family. If you are visiting this area for the first time, a guided ATV tour of the Great Smoky Mountains lets you see why so many people choose to call this area home.

Tour the Local Towns

This small corner of Tennessee has a lot to offer; towns like Gatlinburg, Rich Mountain, Cades Cove, Tremont are always happy to welcome visitors. The different stores, eateries, and historic buildings can keep your attention for hours if you are walking. A much better way to see all that these towns have to offer in in a UTV. You can rent a 2, 4, or 6 seat UTV that is street legal that you and your family can use to cruise the streets and take in the scenery. It is only 25 minutes from the rental office to Cades Cove where the whole family can relax and have fun.

Take a Ride on the Wild Side

Not everyone who comes to the Townsend area wants to spend their time wandering from one store to the next, many come to enjoy the scenery. The good news is that the same UTV you can rent to take to the streets can also take you far off road into the rugged scenery of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. This is a guided tour and is led by a trail boss who knows this area like the back of his hand. It is his job to guide you through rugged areas on mountain trails that are sure to get your heart pumping. Many areas you will visit are not accessible by the general public.

Visit Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Take an ATV tour of Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Cades Cove. Here you will find a working gristmill, three churches, a number of log homes, barns, and numerous other buildings that have been restored. You can walk the trail that loops around the cove, but you may find driving around it to be a little faster.

There are even special hours for those who wish to travel by bicycle or walk but don’t want to have to deal with traffic during the summer months.  During the months of May through September, all roads in the cove are closed to vehicular traffic until 10:00 a.m. Whether you want to cruise the local towns and do a little shopping, hit the trails, or visit Cades Cove, MTN Trax ATV Tours located in Townsend has a UTV just for you.

One important note, these tours have become so popular with everyone who visits here, MTN Trax recommends you book your next tour well in advance to ensure they have a vehicle and a tour guide available.

Blount County Adventures – Smoky Mountain Speedway

June 16, 2017   -   0 comments

Smoky Mountain Speedway – A Night Full of Fun for the Whole Family

Weekends in Tennessee during the spring and summer are meant for only one thing, heading to the Smoky Mountain Speedway. There is nothing quite like the sound of screaming engines hurtling both car and driver around the track, except the cheers for the winner. People have been racing cars in Tennessee further back than most can remember. From street stocks to World of Outlaws and more, you will always find a great race to watch.

The track was built back in the 1960s as a clay oval that was somewhat larger than the track in use today. While high banks might be in style today, the track here is not banked as high as the one in Bristol. Many of the greatest drivers in NASCAR spent time racing here in their early days. Among the many greats in racing who have competed here a few times are Richard Petty, Bobby and Donnie Allison, Darrell Waltrip, Neil Bonnett, and many others. Some of these drivers raced when the NASCAR circuit we know today was called the Grand Nationals.

The Smoky Mountain Speedway Has Room for All

One of the more unique features of the Smoky Mountain Speedway is that there is not only plenty of room for everyone but no matter where you are, you can see the track. There are concrete grandstands and areas for those who want to sit up close. If this doesn’t sound like your idea of fun, how about a picnic or a tailgate party? The track offers tiered parking/camping that lets you park, sit in your vehicle, on the ground in front of your vehicle, or on the tailgate. You can kick back, relax, and enjoy the show.

There is nothing like taking your kids out to the races. They are sure to have a good time as the Smoky Mountain Speedway has multiple concession stands along with a number of local food vendors who are there each week offering tasty delights such as funnel cakes and pork rinds. Of course, if you are planning to tailgate, the use of small grills is permitted in the tiered parking area.

Whether you are a lifelong race fan or just a family looking for something fun to do together on a weekend evening, the Smoky Mountain Speedway is the place to go. Why not come on Friday night, pitch a tent behind the tiered parking area and stay for the weekend. The track has become so popular with fans in the area, you should probably plan to arrive early as the facility fills up quickly despite having a huge grandstand. Be sure to tune into the P.A. system at 97.9 on your FM dial so you don’t miss a thing.

Explore Maryville – Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse

June 13, 2017   -   0 comments

Take a Step Back in Time at the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse

The Sam Houston schoolhouse is a one room log structure that was built in 1794. The school is named for Sam Houston who taught classes here in 1812.  At the young age of 18 (which was actually fairly typical of many teachers of that era), Houston taught students who ranged in age from 6 to 60. The new school year would start after the corn had been planted in the spring and would end when it was time for the harvest.

Thanks to Revolutionary War Veteran Andrew Kennedy

The Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse was built on land that was donated by Andrew Kennedy, a Revolutionary War veteran, the school’s first teacher Henry McCulloch, and a number of neighbors. The structure was built using hand-hewn poplar logs which were frequently used to build what were known as “field schools” (this resource offers more information on this practice) during the 1700s.

To make life a little easier for the students, the window shutters were designed to fold down into desks during the day. Inside the ceilings are only 7 feet tall to help keep the heat in during the colder months and the cooler air in during the summer.

The schoolhouse is situated atop a small rise right above a free-flowing spring that helped to provide fresh water for the students, teachers and local residents. When the school was first built, the location was chosen for the large oak tree that provided plenty of shade all summer long. However, during a particularly bad storm, the tree fell down. The remaining stump would later be carved into an uncanny likeness of Sam Houston.

The State Purchases the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse  

During the 150 years before the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse was in use before being purchased by the state, it served a number of purposes. These include being used as a schoolhouse, a church, and finally as a tenant house.

Today the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Tennessee Historic Site. The Sam Houston Memorial Association, consisting of 18 members, is now charged with taking care of the structure and preserving it for future generations.

While you are visiting the schoolhouse, be sure to stop by the museum, which is filled with an incredible array of antiques and memorabilia. You can see the slates and books used by many of the students who attended school here over the years. The Sam Houston Memorial Association welcomes individuals, families, and school groups to come and learn about this amazing structure and the man for whom it is named. Kids can even attend classes taught in the exact same manner as they were over 200 years ago.

If you would like to help support the Sam Houston Memorial Association, the Sam Houston Historic Schoolhouse, and the museum, you are invited to purchase a membership. The money from your membership goes to support all of the above and to keep the building and its surroundings preserved so that future generations can enjoy them.

Here’s an interesting activity: The schoolhouse is host to a Day Camp with activities for kids that help them learn about Sam Houston and the school’s history.

Member Spotlight: Little River Watershed Association

June 9, 2017   -   0 comments

Protecting the Little River Watershed Today and for The Future

It seems as though our rivers, streams, and lakes are under constant assault from every angle. Whether it is people who toss their trash in the waters or businesses that dump their waste, the Little River Watershed needs all the help it can get to ensure that over 100,000 can continue to count on safe drinking water coming from their taps. The Little River Watershed Association (LWRA) was formed in 1998 with one goal, “To protect and enhance the Little River and its tributaries through mobilizing public support, building public awareness, and recommending best management practices.”

Why Does the Watershed Need Protecting?

For decades, the Little River and its tributaries struggled to stay alive due to the negligence of those who lived along and near it. Trash piled up, chemicals were dumped into the pristine waters, and worse. Not only does this type of behavior destroy the quality of these waters, but it does far worse damage that we cannot always see immediately.

This damage occurs as the polluted waters drain through the ground and deep into the ground where it filters into the very aquifers local residents draw the water they use to drink, cook, and bathe from. For years, the pollution levels went unheeded, until they began to reach levels that could no longer be ignored.

The LWRA Steps In

In 1998, the LWRA was formed by a group of concerned citizens who lived near the Little River and its tributaries and counted on the watershed for their fresh water supply. They took it upon themselves to begin advocating for the river at a time when far too many people seemed not to care. They began to coordinate resources in order to clean up the river by removing trash and convincing residents and businesses to not use the river as a dumping ground.

Today, the LWRA continues to educate those who live here on the importance of clean water and protecting not only the waters of the Little River and its tributaries but also the wildlife that depends on these waters for life.

The LWRA Offers Education

The Little River Watershed Association hosts the Stream School for Kids funded by Alcoa. This class is held at the Little River Watershed where kids will work with water quality experts and learn about the river and the many creatures who call it home (including over 50 species of fish, plus some that are endangered). The association also hosts a number of classes for adults to help teach them how they can help to protect the rivers, streams, and watershed so that future generations can enjoy all they have to offer and the potable water they supply

The LWRA encourages local business, watershed groups, civil organizations, schools, churches, families, and scout groups to adopt the local rivers, streams, and lakes to help control the buildup of litter along the banks, waterways, and shorelines so that they might be preserved for the wildlife and all who depend on them.

If you would like to help, please visit this page for volunteer and donation information.

Member Spotlight : Helen Ross McNabb Center

June 6, 2017   -   0 comments

Helen Ross McNabb Center – Improving Lives One Day at a Time

Life can turn out to be very stressful from time to time no matter how young or old one happens to be. Today’s residents of East Tennessee face an ever more challenging world filled with hard choices, work stress, family problems, homelessness, and more. For some people, it seems that no matter where they turn, life feels overwhelming. At the Helen Ross McNabb Center, a not-for-profit behavioral health services provider, children, adults, and families can get the help they need for addiction issues, mental health problems, and a number of social challenges.

Improving the Lives of the People They Serve

To the team at Helen Ross McNabb Center, this is more than just a motto, it is a promise they make to everyone who comes through their doors. Unlike many behavioral health services that simply look for a single root cause for a particular issue, whether it’s drug or alcohol addiction, social anxiety, or a mental health issue, this team goes much further.

Here you will find a dedicated team of highly educated, experienced, and compassionate specialists who share the same belief. This is that the best possible approach to helping their clients is to take into account the entire spectrum of impacts on people’s lives, including: biological, medical, psychological, and community influences. This team approach involving clients and care providers has been proven to be highly effective time and again.

Their full motto reads, “Improving the lives of the people we service; helping children, adults, and families with addiction, mental illness, and social challenges.” This, in essence, covers the vast majority of the issues many people face each and every day.

The History of the Helen Ross McNabb Center

Helen Ross had a lifelong passion for helping those suffering from mental illness that dated back to her childhood when she and her family lived near the Eastern State Hospital that became the Lakeshore Mental Health Institute (closed in 2012). Helen graduated from Wellesley College and the University of Tennessee, where she earned a degree in psychology and sociology in 1936 and then earned a Master’s Degree in Psychology.

In 1948 Helen was able to secure funding from the Knoxville City Council to open a children’s mental health facility. By 1955 the facility had grown to help adults and started to outgrow its home near the University of Tennessee Campus.

Today, the Helen Ross McNabb Center helps children, adults, and families cope with a range of issues by providing them with interventions, education, counseling and more. They also operate a number of satellite clinics to provide these much-needed services to those living in outlying areas who may not be able to come to the home location. The Helen Ross McNabb Center continues to find new ways to help those who live in the community who have no advocates of their own and no way to help themselves.

Member Spotlight: Blount County SPCA

June 2, 2017   -   0 comments

The Blount County SPCA Takes Over When No One Else Seems to Care

The Blount County SPCA (BCSPCA) fulfills a number of roles for those who cannot take care of themselves. Animals that are kept as pets or working animals rely 100 percent on their owners for care, love, food, water, and shelter. Sadly, far too many pets in the area end up being abused, neglected, and or abandoned. Left to fend for themselves, many end up dying from starvation, their injuries, being run over, and many other reasons. The SPCA is there to take in the area’s unloved and unwanted animals, heal them, feed them, love them, and find them a new loving home.

Not Just for Pets

The Blount County SPCA takes in an extraordinary number of small animals each year, but this is not all they do. In 2014 work began to renovate their barn. The barn has been home to a number of chickens, horses, pigs, donkeys, and rabbits. Their first guest was a mother dog, who had recently given birth to six puppies. Today, the barn has its own Facebook page where you can see photos of the various residents of the barn, along with the latest progress.

The Good Deeds Program

Not everyone who does a good deed gets the recognition they deserve, including the many amazing volunteers who help keep the Blount County SPCA up and running smoothly. However, the BCSPCA has created a Good Deeds Program that ensures Blount County residents who do pitch in and help in any way get the recognition they deserve. This help can be in the form of taking a few hours and mucking out the stables, donating food, gifting the facility with a dog house (they can never have enough of these), or helping mend the horse fences.

Standing Up for Those Who Can’t

One of the biggest problems facing animals who live in a human world is that they don’t have the ability to stand up for themselves. When the BCSPCA becomes aware of a situation in which any form of animal cruelty is involved, they are ready to be there to help rescue and rehabilitate the animal(s). This is only the beginning as the staff stands ready to represent the animals in court and prosecute the perpetrator to the fullest extent of the law.

Follow the Blount County SPCA On Twitter

If you would like to learn more about what’s happening at the Blount County SPCA, you can always follow them on Twitter. Here you can learn about the latest happenings in the shelter and the barn. You can also learn about the many fundraising events held throughout the year. For those who would like to be more involved, the BCSPCA is always looking for volunteers to help care for the animals and provide loving companionship as they are rehabilitated and find a new home. They need all the help they can get to care for the many animals left with them each month.

Member Spotlight: Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center

June 1, 2017   -   0 comments

Nothing can be harder for a child who has been physically or sexually abused than having to tell their story time and time again as their case works its way through multiple agencies. In many ways, having to relive these types of horrors over and over again can be as bad as or worse than the incident itself. New Hope, which is the Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center, was created to provide children in and around the Maryville, TN area with a safe haven.

Everyone On the Same Page

The initial idea behind the development of the Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center was to create what the founders call a “Children’s Office” or a single place where the various agencies could come together. Their goal, is to be able to provide a range of services for child victims of sexual and physical abuse all in one location. In doing this, they have made it possible for a child victim to only have to tell his or her story one time.

In the years before the foundation of the Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center, many child abuse victims were often the subject of what can only be described as “re-victimization”. This deplorable situation was a direct result of dealing with the very agencies charged with protecting these young victims.

How are They Re-Victimized?

This type of re-victimization is typically the result of being required to talk about what happened to them to a number of adults from different agencies at different times. These entities might include: parents, law enforcement officers, child protective services agents, doctors, emergency room techs, and more. These interviews may even (without adults realizing it) take place at the location where the alleged abuse occurred. No matter how you look at it, this can be very scary to a child who is already upset by their traumatic experience.

How the Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center Helps

The team of experts at Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center works together so they can provide far more effective case management and ensure that each child has access to the help they need. New Hope has found that by providing every child who comes through their doors with a child-friendly and very safe location, most of them are far more likely to be cooperative.

This level of cooperation means that the staff at Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center can be more proactive in helping the children and ensuring that when possible, the perpetrator of the crime does not go unpunished. New Hope believes that by providing children with the skills to protect themselves, they can help reduce the amount of physical and sexual abuse of children significantly. Studies have also shown that when children have a “safe place” where they can talk about what is happening to them, the abuse can be stopped.

New Hope – “Blount County Children’s Advocacy Center is dedicated to serving children who are victims of sexual and physical abuse through prevention, education, and intervention.”

Member Spotlight: Family Promise of Blount County

May 30, 2017   -   0 comments

In 2007, the Blount County community took a look around them and decided that the area had a number of homeless families who needed more than just a quick handout. They decided what these families needed was a place to live and a support network that could help them get back up on their feet so that they could get jobs and earn the money needed to have their own homes and a safe place to raise their families.

The Early Days

In 2007, Family Promise International came to the county and found that there was a significant need for an “interfaith hospitality network”. The local community responded very positively to this idea and by the next year, sites were being researched to build a Family Day Center. By mid-2008 Family Promise was the recipient of a United Way Venture Grant to help them get started in Blount County.

Each year since then the program has continued to grow and help more families and individuals break their cycle of homelessness and move on to lead successful lives. From 2009 to 2010, Family Promise helped 100 individuals (65 of them were children), but this was just the beginning.  In 2011, Family Promise became a United Way Partner allowing them to offer even more services thanks to additional funding.

Fast Forward

Through grants and private donations, Family Promise has been able to purchase a number of housing units along with at least two houses that have been donated to help provide homes for those individuals and families in need. The shelter program has continued to grow and provide much-needed housing for the homeless as well as those in need of a safe place to stay.

Today the average client spends approximately 53 days in one of the Family Promise housing units before they are ready to move on to the next stage of their lives. In 2016, The Going Home, Staying Home program was started. This program offers clients a number of practical training classes, along with incentives and endless support designed to help families move from the shelter into transitional housing and finally into a permanent home.

Helping Put an End to Family Homelessness in Blount County

Family Promise is proud to say that with the help of 15 host churches, 15 support churches, and more than 1,000 individual volunteers, they are helping to put an end to family homelessness throughout Blount County, one family at a time.  No other support program in the area can claim this level of success. Getting families into a permanent home and helping them find gainful employment is only the beginning.

The work of Family Promise and its many volunteers goes much further than this by offering continuing support services to families for a full 12 months after they leave the program. This is done to ensure that every family who has been helped enjoys long term success and should never have to worry about their family becoming homeless again. This is what Family Promise is all about. If you have a few hours to spare, why not volunteer and do your part to help put an end to homelessness in Blount County once and for all?

Member Spotlight: Boys & Girls Club of Blount County

May 25, 2017   -   0 comments

The Boys & Girls Club of Blount County offers a number services for our local youth intended to give them a head start in life and to ensure they have the education and skills needed to become successful adults. The first Boy’s Club in Knoxville, TN opened on West Vine Ave way back in 1943, it moved to Caswell Ave in 1955. The first Girl’s Club opened on East Baxter Ave in 1965. There are three main areas in which the Boys & Girls Clubs focus: academic success, good character and citizenship, and healthy lifestyles.


The goal of the Boys & Girls Club in Blount County and across the country is to put each of our kids on the fast track to success by ensuring they graduate from high school. But, there is more to this than simply earning a high school diploma; the Club wants every boy or girl to be ready to go to a trade school or college, enter the military, or to simply go out into the workforce.

There are over 35 educational and fun programs available during the summer months and after school. The Club offers a Summer Learning Loss Prevention class, along with STEM (Science Technology Engineering Mathematics), technology classes, programs in the Arts, and so much more.  Studies show that young people who attend the Boys & Girls Club for at least 105 days per year are at least twice as likely to become high school graduates.

Healthy Lifestyles

The Boys & Girls Club served approximately 580,000 hot meals and snacks to club members completely free of charge last year. The Club also offers a range of fitness programs that include a number of team sports.  There are courses in health and wellness along with outdoor and environmental classes.  There is more to good overall health than a healthy body; mentors work with our club members to help them develop much needed social and emotional skills. These are skills they will need both in school and once they head out into the work environment and try to take on life as an adult.

Good Character and Citizenship        

Through the YouthForce® program, the Boys & Girls Club helps connect members with a number of local businesses and helps them learn a career through job internships and paid job skills training. One of the main goals of the Club is to teach members to avoid engaging in high-risk activities such as consuming alcohol, drugs, and tobacco.

Members also learn to become a valued member of the community via a number of community service projects chosen for their ability to make a difference in Blount County. Members are given the tools and education they need to prepare them for the time when they become adults and in many cases, raise their own families.

Almost anyone can volunteer to help out at the Boys & Girls Club of Blount County. You can volunteer by yourself, as a family, or even as a group and make a big difference in the life of the youth living in Blount County. Many of the members will go on to carve their own niche in the world. What a wonderful way to give back – volunteer at the Boys & Girls Club today!

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