How long has your family been visiting the Great Smoky Mountains for vacation? The vast majority of visitors here are returning guests, who have enjoyed spending time together as their relatives grow and change. Though Gatlinburg had developed a burgeoning tourist business by the mid-1960’s, it is obvious from the aerial picture below that Pigeon Forge was still in its infancy as a vacation destination. More than likely, the secluded Pigeon Forge rental cabin which you have chosen as your place to relax was built within the last 25 years (most likely the last 15), which is the time window when most of these accommodations became more numerous here. With so many changes, I wanted to remember a few earlier attractions that some members of your family may enjoy recalling from a simpler era.
If the original Water Boggan was a wet ride that you enjoyed in the 70’s and 80’s, you know that you would not want to lose your foam rubber mat on your ride down the hill! The textured, painted concrete troughs made for a bit of a roughed up bottom, unlike the smooth fiberglass runs of today’s parks. Other water attractions of that era included Mountain Ocean, the town’s original wave pool, and Ogle’s Water Park, the first and largest complex of water slides and pools at that time. The pictured Water Boggan, hillside at the far north end of Pigeon Forge is now dotted with camping rental cabins. Mountain Ocean has long been paved over as the upper parking lot of (originally named) Factory Merchants Outlet Mall (red roof mall stores) in the early 80’s. Ogle’s Water Park was sold, dismantled, and redeveloped as Walden’s Landing in 2003, at the corner of Parkway and Wears Valley Road .
Ah, the water-skiing stunt show that was Tommy Bartlett’s Water Circus! This ski, sky, and stage show opened in 1977, and was billed as “the greatest show on H2O”. The show’s run in the area was splashy (ok, that was a really bad pun), but relatively short, ending in the early 80’s. The grandstand canopy is still rusting in place on Sugar Hollow Road just off the Parkway across from the recently closed ZORB attraction. It was redeveloped by a church organization with buildings added roadside, and then again changed hands later.
If you ever visited Porpoise Island, you caught a taste of Hawaii in the Smoky Mountains. Surely an unexpected combination of Polynesian and East Tennessee cultures, but “the porpoises are calling you!” (declared their commercials). The attraction featured a seal and porpoise water show, trained parrots, and a Hula dancer music luau show, among others. Students from Hawaii were flown in each season, along with almost all the animals. It was a fun and interesting place to visit. In doing some research for this blog, I noticed on Facebook that the Porpoise Island cast recently held a reunion in 2012, expressing fond memories of Tennessee, just as we have fond memories of their time here in the 1970’s and 80’s. The same property in the middle of the Pigeon River is now The Island, which is a rapidly growing development with new attractions and restaurants. Just look for the large observation Wheel, and you’ll be standing on what was once “native Hawaiian” stomping grounds.