It’s hard anymore, in the shifting standards of our culture, to know what boundaries are appropriate.
I had a wonderful childhood, in many ways, with a level of freedom that would border on negligence today.
For instance, I never sat in a safety seat. As an infant, I survived a car crash when my mom slipped me onto the floorboard and held on for dear life as a driver ran a stoplight and blasted our car.
Road trips with my grandparents left me bouncing around in the expansive back seat of Pap’s giant Buick. Standing and peering over his shoulder as he toured the mean streets of Southern Indiana was par for the course.
I was free to roam our neighborhoods, bound only by the vaguest of barriers set before me. Don’t cross this street, a massive four lane highway, blocks away.
I could be out of the range of my parents’ voices for hours and no one ever raised an alarm.
When I was in second grade, they made an announcement about a suspicious van hanging around the school. Did anyone consider escorting me to school? No. I’d been walking several blocks by myself as a kindergartner. I was warned to stay away from suspicious vans and strangers and people with candy.
When I was 17, we took a school trip to Paris, London, Brussels and Amsterdam. In Paris, I was given – or took as my birthright – a level of freedom not given to others.
Armed with three years of high school French and my own penchant for independence, I struck out on my own more than once, exploring a charming garden behind Sacre Coeur and getting upbraided by a laundromat worker while trying to freshen up my travel garments.
That level of freedom from an early age acted like a booster rocket to my natural streak of independence.
I like to think for myself. I like to do for myself.
Even when I know I shouldn’t, I bristle at being told what to do. I’ll dig in my heels, unable to hide the white-hot obstinance raging within.
Is Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge safe for adults?
So when asked if Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are safe to explore, my instant reaction is: Yes, of course.
Drawing on my own experiences in a lifetime of cruising around Sevier County, running the roads in Pigeon Forge, walking around Gatlinburg, I can think of no reason why you should be fearful of doing the same.
Now, here’s the irony.
Ask me if I’d let my kids do the same?
Ah, the hypocrisy is strong with this one. The world has changed. I have changed. The freedoms of which I once gulped so mightily are but fables to my kids.
Even in the age of cell phones, they do not wander outside the range of my voice. I don’t know if there’s been 10 minutes of their lives – excluding time with friends or family – that I didn’t have a full grasp of where they were.
Which is safer for kids? Gatlinburg or Pigeon Forge?
And so, if you asked me if Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge are safe for my children, the answer would still be yes, but with caveats.
First of all, logistically I consider Gatlinburg the safer of the two.
It’s smaller, of course. And it’s a city built for walking with easily defined boundaries that limit the possibilities for misunderstandings.
Drivers on the strip are expecting pedestrians, the speed limit is manageable. Everything along the strip is well lit and I would be shocked if most of the area isn’t covered by the stores’ security cameras.
In addition, there are plenty of kid-friendly businesses and attractions that your progeny could explore without making a nuisance of themselves.
I tell them to stay away from the water without supervision. The river through Gatlinburg isn’t necessarily deep – though in heavy rainy seasons it may be somewhat dangerous – but that mountain water can be cold with decent currents.
The biggest danger in Gatlinburg
The biggest danger in Gatlinburg – and life really – is the other people.
People have different motivations. Sometimes they go on vacation to indulge the parts of themselves that are repressed in their everyday interactions.
Maybe they want to fight. Maybe they want to flirt. Who knows?
As long as your kids know how to separate themselves from a potentially uncomfortable situation – instruct them to seek refuge in a store or restaurant and ask for help – then they should be fine.
The biggest dangers in Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge is a different matter.
It’s bigger and wider and more filled with drivers who aren’t necessarily watching for pedestrians.
In Pigeon Forge or Sevierville, I would set boundaries differently. I would instruct the kids to stay where they are supposed to be.
For instance, I wouldn’t hesitate to give them freedom to explore The Island or one of the outlet malls or even some of the larger strip malls or areas.
But if I caught them trying to cross from one side of the strip to the other? They’d wish a car got them before I did.
Again, I’d tell them to stay away from water and from strangers seeking their attention.
There have been in recent years, at least anecdotally, a rise in wilder behavior in Pigeon Forge. Not that there hasn’t always been some of that, it just seems like there’s been more recently.
But again, as long your kids know how to separate from unwanted notice, they should be fine.
No fussing, no fighting and minimal flirting would be my marching orders for Pigeon Forge.
So is Pigeon Forge safe? By and large, yes.
But that doesn’t mean something can’t happen but statistically, you’re as safe there as just about anywhere.
Ultimately, you know yourself and your family better than anyone. You know how much freedom to allow, what boundaries to set. Be smart, be firm and you should be fine.
Do you feel safe in Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge? Let us know in the comments.