Anakeesta took Gatlinburg, Tenn. to literal new heights this week with the grand opening ceremony of AnaVista Tower.
AnaVista Tower is the “crown jewel” of Anakeesta’s $6.5M expansion project. AnaVista Tower, at a whopping 1,947 feet above sea level, is now considered to be downtown Gatlinburg’s highest point, a title once owned by the Gatlinburg Space Needle.
The tower offers an unobstructed 360-degree view of the Smoky Mountains and is the only one of its kind in the world.
The tower features multiple look-out levels and was built to resemble a blossoming flower complete with a life-size Compass Rose and directional points built in.
Several Sevier County officials, area attraction representatives and local media attended the grand opening ceremony on Wednesday.
Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development Mark Ezell spoke at the event, commented on the importance of Anakeesta’s achievement and offered his praise.
“The sweeping panoramic views – especially from the top of AnaVista Tower – are even more beautiful than I had imagined… This iconic observation tower is a must-see for anyone who lives in or visits Tennessee. Anakeesta truly is the perfect outdoor family theme park for an authentic mountaintop experience.”
Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner was also in attendance.
“It’s fitting that AnaVista Tower opens during Gatlinburg’s 75th Anniversary year, a time to look back and appreciate the beginnings of our city that’s grown from a dirt road into the United States’ most visited town,” Werner reflected. “This is also a time to look ahead to envision what is next. And looking around from up here at Anakeesta, I think you’ll agree – the outlook is incredibly bright and clear.”
Anakeesta, a $32M mountaintop investment, opened just three years ago in 2017.
The land that Anakeesta now calls home once belonged to the Pi Beta Phi fraternity for women. Over 100 years ago, before the establishment of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, this group of women identified Gatlinburg as a population in need of access to literacy and healthcare. They set up a school, a healthcare facility and a cottage industry of weaving textiles and crafts.
In 2014, the Pi Beta Phi fraternity sold their land to Bob and Karen Bentz and their family.
The Bentz’s exhibited a vision towards environmental stewardship and a family-friendly mountaintop experience in the Smokies.
“It’s clear Anakeesta treasures the Great Smoky Mountains and basks in their glory, and they are also wonderful community partners,” beamed Great Smoky Mountains National Park superintendent Cassius Cash, who also spoke at the grand opening event.
Today, Anakeesta has become a landmark in its own right and is one of Gatlinburg’s most popular attractions.
Things we learned about Anakeesta and AnaVista Tower at the grand opening ceremony
4. Glass flooring and other enhancements will be added to AnaVista Tower
While AnaVista Tower is now officially open to the general public, there are still a handful of enhancements being added to make this one-of-a-kind experience even more special.
This fall, the park will add lights to the tower for a nighttime light show.
Glass panels are also being added to the tower floor, offering guests a bird’s eye view of Anakeesta’s Vista Gardens below.
3. Anakeesta’s Co-Founder, Bob Bentz designed AnaVista tower himself
“A vision just becomes a dream if you don’t do anything,” said Bentz at the grand opening event. And it’s clear that Bentz has very much lived his life by this motto.
Anakeesta co-founders Bob and Karen Bentz are successful business owners and landscape architects from South Florida. But the couple have a special history with East Tennessee.
They originally met as architecture students at the University of Tennessee and served as park rangers together for the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
The couple’s son, Bryce Bentz, also played a key role in building many of park’s design elements as Anakeesta’s Director of Development, including AnaVista Tower.
One could say the entire park is truly a family-affair.
2. Anakeesta has planted more than 350 trees in the park since the Gatlinburg fires
The land that Anakeesta occupies today was nearly destroyed during the Gatlinburg fires in 2016.
“Years ago this was an area that was ravished by mother nature,” said Bob Bentz during the grand opening ceremony. “There was one tree that still remained … everything else here is brand new.”
The team at Anakeesta has planted more than 350 trees on this now seemingly immaculate parcel of land. Little evidence of the disaster remains in the park, unless you are looking for it.
A few dead and scarred trees can be seen from the bird’s eye view of the chondola that transports guests up the mountain and into the park.
The juxtaposition of the damaged forest alongside the new growth in itself tells the story of Gatlinburg’s resilience.
“The silver lining is that it (the fire) really opened up some incredible views,” said Nick Thompson, owner of CLIMBWorks and Anakeesta founding partner during the park’s construction in 2017.
1. They’re not done – Anakeesta is still expanding!
While the majority of the $6.5M expansion is now complete, there’s still much more to come!
Additional new areas, set to open September 2020 include:
- A new restaurant
- A new open-air shopping area
- A kid’s water play area
- A mountaintop firepit
- A walk-up bar for local craft brews
The new restaurant, Smokehouse Barbeque and Brewery, will double Anakeesta’s current dining capacity. The restaurant will be the only place in Gatlinburg where guests can dine in full view of both the Great Smoky Mountains and Mt. LeConte.
And much to the relief of those looking to escape the summer heat, or the icy winter for that matter, guests will be pleased to learn that this restaurant will be fully enclosed and temperature controlled.
Comfort and a view? I’m in.
Storm damage at Anakeesta
Guests may also be interested to know that repairs to Anakeesta’s TreeTop SkyWalk are now underway.
Storms are par for the course here in the Great Smoky Mountains, and Anakeesta is far from immune from that sometimes punishing weather.
Ninety-mile per hour winds recently knocked down a couple of trees on Anakeesta’s popular TreeTop SkyWalk attraction, taking a piece of the SkyWalk with them.
Luckily, the majority of the SkyWalk was unharmed and guests are still allowed to walk on the intact bridges that remain.
Repairs are expected to be complete by Fall 2020.
Anakeesta is located at 576 Parkway, Gatlinburg, TN 37738. To learn more about Anakeesta or to purchase tickets, visit them online at Anakeesta.com.