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Hands On Sevierville: The Animal Kingdom

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Hands On Sevierville: The Animal Kingdom
By Rochelle Caviness - December 15, 2003

Sevierville Tennessee has long been a favorite vacation destination for families. Not only does it serve as a gateway to the Great Smoky Mountains, but the town also offers a wealth of wholesome attractions suited for all members of the family. These attractions run the gamut from the NASCAR SpeedPark where you can race 5/8 scale Winston Cup style cars, to Forbidden Caverns where you can take a guided tour through an ancient cave once used by Indians, and more recently, by moonshiners! Besides traditional-styled attractions, Sevierville, and the nearby towns of Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg, feature several attractions that offer visitors the unique opportunity to get "up close, and personal" with a wide range of animals, including kangaroos, stingrays, and snakes.

For visually impaired children and adults, visiting museums and zoos, while informative, is not always a 'fun' experience. Often there are few opportunities to touch the exhibits or animals, and you'll have to admit that just listening to someone describing what is in an exhibit can be a bit dull. Now imagine that you are given the opportunity to go behind the glass window, or the cage's bars, and to go into the exhibit and touch the displays or the animals... Sighted or not, you'll find that the experience takes on new meaning, and excitement, especially when animals are involved.

There are many opportunities in the Sevierville area for hands-on animal encounters that are both educational and FUN!!

Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Exotic Petting Zoo

If your time is limited, and you can only 'do' one hands-on activity while vacationing in the area, I highly recommend that you visit the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm & Exotic Petting Zoo. This is not your typical petting zoo that has a couple of rabbits, and maybe a sheep or donkey. Rather, this is a real zoo, one in which you can touch all the animals! The animals that you will find here include kangaroos, camels, reindeer, zebra, pygmy goats, sheep, wallabies, peacocks, Sicilian donkeys, guanacos, llamas, miniature horses, prairie dogs, and even a zonkey. The only animals that I saw that you cannot touch are the prairie dogs, and while you can technically touch the peacocks - I doubt that you'll find them cooperative! The above list is just a few of the animals that you find at the Deer Farm Petting Zoo.

When visiting the zoo, be sure to wear casual or even 'junky' clothes as they are going to get, at a minimum, slobbered on. For safety reasons, most of the animals can only be touched through, or over, the fences of their compound. However, if you are brave, you can go into the compounds of some of the animals such as the deer and goats. This is a wonderful and exhilarating opportunity to meet these friendly creatures on very intimate terms. Before going into the enclosures, be forewarned, some of these animals can be a bit pushy - and some of them do have horns and they might try to butt you in order to get your attention. They might also nibble on your clothes.

You can buy food at the zoo to feed the animals. Having feed with you will ensure that you'll get to meet all the animals. If you don't have food, some of them might ignore you and give all their attention to another visitor that does have feed! When you buy the feed, you'll receive instructions about which animals you can give the feed to, and how you should hold the feed in your hands for each animal, so that your fingers do not become part of the treat...

When I visited the zoo in October of 2003, I found the facility to be very clean, and the animals all appeared healthy and well-cared for, and the staff compassionate and enthusiastic about their work. They have a vet that regularly examines the animals, and the facility is inspected by the USDA. I was highly impressed with the zoo itself, and my experiences while visiting with the animals. I had a lot of fun feeding the animals, and getting to touch the animals. I have to admit - during my visit to the Deer Farm Zoo I had my first opportunity to scratch a kangaroo behind the ear - a very heady experience to say the least. I also had a lot of fun getting into the enclosures with the deer and the goats. By far, this was the best petting zoo I've ever visited, and it offers visually impaired, as well as sighted individuals a unique opportunity to get to learn about a variety of animals. In addition, if the truth is told, visiting the Deer Farm Petting Zoo is just a whole lot of fun!!!

You can easily spend an entire day at the Deer Farm Zoo. However, if you can tear yourself away from the animals at the zoo, you can get another hands-on animal experience while at the Smoky Mountain Deer Farm. Located adjacent to the zoo is the Deer Farm Riding Stables, which offers guided trail rides. Pony rides are also available.

Five Oaks Riding Stables

Throughout the Sevierville area you'll find several stables offering visitors the opportunity to go on a trail ride. One of these stables in the Five Oaks Riding Stables. Five Oaks offers 1 hour and hour guided trail rides through the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. Their horses appeared to all be calm and gentle, and my horse, at least, was very tolerant of having to put up with a novice rider. The trail rides are all guided, and the guides provide an ongoing commentary about the history and lore of the area. They are also there to offer advice or assistance if you have trouble with your horse.

A unique feature about this stable is its location. It is located across the street from the Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Center, a huge complex with over 80 stores. As you start the trail ride you are on a hill overlooking the shopping center, but within seconds, you take a little turn around the hill, and all the noise and sights of the city are gone. You find yourself in a quiet, woody oasis riding along a small stream. It is a very relaxing ride, and the staff is willing to provide any reasonable assistance necessary to make your visit to the stables a memorable and fun experience.

Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo

If your tastes run more reptilian than equine, you'll want to stop in and visit the Rainforest Adventures Discovery Zoo. Rainforest Adventures is an indoor zoo that specializes in reptiles. They have over 500 live tropical animal exhibits ranging from African Giant Scorpions to skinks. Most of the exhibits are, by necessity enclosed, either to protect the animal, or the human. However Rainforest Adventures does offer daily educational programs that give visitors the change to touch, and at times hold, a range of exotic animals including snakes, legless lizards, alligators, turtles, and frogs.

The mission of Rainforest Adventures is to education the public about the animals in their collection, and about animal conservation. If you plan on visiting the zoo with a group of visually impaired students, the education department at Rainforest Adventures can probably develop a special program designed specifically to meet the needs of your group.

Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies

Located in nearby Gatlinburg, Tennessee, Ripley's Aquarium of the Smokies is another 'must visit' attraction for families vacationing in Sevierville. Visually impaired family members may find large parts of the aquarium unaccessible due to the fact that most of the exhibits are located in tanks of water. However, they will find that the aquarium is still worth the visit.

The two big hands-on 'animal' attractions at the aquarium are the string-ray pool where you put your hand in the pool and pet the stingrays, and the horseshoe crab exhibit where you can actually pick up the crabs. The aquarium also offers education programs that permit participants to touch and examines various marine artifacts. The aquarium also features a rotating, interactive exhibit that explores various aspects of maritime and marine life.

For those with at least some residual vision, another big attraction is the aquarium's underwater tunnel. This tunnel runs beneath a huge tank that holds almost a million gallons of water, tons of fish, eels, and even sharks! The tunnel is constructed of a clear acrylic material that allows you to see into the giant tank, and you can ride through the tunnel on a 340-foot-long moving walkway. You can also walk alongside the walkway if you want to go at a slower pace. In short, the tunnel allows you to get about as close to the fish as you can, short of getting in the tank with them!

Parrot Mountain and Gardens

To conclude your hands on animal adventure while in Sevierville, you'll want to stop by Parrot Mountain and Gardens in nearby Pigeon Forge. At Parrot Mountain visitors can handle and feed a variety of tropical birds. They also have a walk-in aviary filled with lorikeets.

Unfortunately, on my recent visit to Sevierville, my time was limited and I did not get a chance to visit Parrot Mountain. However, from everything that I've heard about the facility, it should offer you and your entire family an unparalleled hands-on opportunity to learn about and handle tropical birds.

In Conclusion

Sevierville offers a plethora of opportunities for anyone interested in learning about, and touching, a variety of animals and birds. Without exception, the staff members at the various attractions I visited were friendly and knowledgeable about the animals they were dealing with. In addition, all expressed a willingness to do whatever they could, within reason, to ensure that a visually impaired guest to their facility would have as many hand-on opportunities as possible, and an all-around fantastic visit!

To learn more about Sevierville Tennessee, and the wide variety of attractions in the area, visit the Sevierville Chamber of Commerce's website, located at: www.seviervillechamber.com.


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