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Free masks for Sevier Co. visitors not easy to find

Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Mark Ezell said thousands of free masks would be provided to visitors over the weekend. In most spots, they ran out quickly.

SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn — Over the weekend, thousands of visitors came to Sevier County from across the country. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee said that was a good thing.

"We hope that people will in fact engage with our businesses here in Tennessee," he told reporters on Thursday. "We've created an environment in those businesses that is safe for patrons and safe for the employees."

But sidewalks filled with crowded tourists, many of whom chose not to wear masks, worry some of the Gatlinburg residents.

"It's not exactly a safe environment," Clark King told 10News. "I'm very concerned about the employees and the merchants downtown when people aren't wearing masks in the buildings."

He made reservations to tour the governor's mansion in early June. He received a response saying it was postponed until the state "feels confident that our tour guests, docents, and Residence staff are safe from COVID-19" and have "the appropriate safety measures in place."

"The email said that it wasn't safe, so they canceled my tour," he said. "If it's safe for tourism, why isn't it safe to tour the governor's mansion?"

He worries the thousands of visitors coming each weekend will end up hurting the residents of Sevier County.

Gov. Bill Lee said he and Tennessee Commissioner of Tourist Development Mark Ezell are focusing on Sevier County safety.

Credit: Grace King
As of Sunday, some Pigeon Forge businesses were handing out masks upon request.

"The towns of Pigeon Forge, Sevierville and Gatlinburg actually were proactive in providing customers to have free masks," Commissioner Ezell said. "Thousands of these were made this week and are being delivered."

In Gatlinburg, a spokesperson for the city said there were 1,000 masks that were "snapped up pretty quick." On Sunday, only Anakeesta had them available for customers because they had reserved them.

The Pigeon Forge Tourism Department said they received approximately 2,000 masks that were distributed to area businesses and restaurants like The Old Mill, Beyond the Lens, Collier Restaurants and Pink Jeep Adventure Tours. 

10News was able to find a Pigeon Forge mask at The Old Mill upon request. The city is expecting a second shipment of masks on Tuesday.

The Sevierville Chamber of Commerce ordered 1,250 Sevierville-branded masks which were distributed to the business community and visitor center. While they ran out of the Sevierville ones, they started giving away the Tennessee masks that are also available through the health department at the Sevierville Welcome Center.

Still, many chose not to wear masks.

"The one thing I want to stress is me wearing a mask is not about me protecting me. It's about me protecting other people," Clark King said. "If it's a requirement for me to wear pants in public, they can make it a requirement to wear a mask."

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