Several options for summer entertainment available in region

By Megan R. Harrell
Star Correspondent

   Although summer does not officially begin until June 21, many are beginning to plan summer getaways for their families. Steep gasoline prices and a shaky economy have vacationers exploring activities closer to home this summer.
   The region has several options for families wanting to spend little or no money for a getaway this year. The area's vast historical, musical, and natural attractions offer parents the opportunity to make vacations fun and educational, at the same time being cost effective.
   Museums in Bristol (considered the birthplace of country music), Knoxville and Chattanooga capture the region's heritage and can be visited at relatively no cost.
   The East Tennessee 2003 Driving Vacations offer regional vacation packages for families looking to spend some money, but would still like to stay close to home. A Rocky Top Getaway for three nights in Knoxville can be purchased at $180 per person.
   For a bit more money the entire family can enjoy already mapped out tours of the region. A four-night Country Music Heritage package including tours of Greeneville and Dollywood is priced at $255 per person. A similar trip to Chattanooga and Knoxville costs $390 per person.
   Dollywood, located in Pigeon Forge, offers seasonal entertainment for less money. A two-night getaway package costs $159 per person, or families may opt for the Smoky Mountain Journey, which costs $255 per person.
   Pigeon Forge is located near Gatlinburg and Sevierville, and the area is known for its vast array of outlet shopping centers. Travel agencies recommend those traveling to Nashville this summer to make a stop along the way to take in the Dollywood experience. It is located approximately three and a half hours from the state's capital.
   For many, a summer vacation is synonymous with a trip to the beach. The suffering travel industry has several steals for this year's beach season if families are willing to endure significant car rides to arrive at their destinations.
   One of the best buys for families with several children is at Emerald Isle, N.C. The northern portion of Myrtle Beach is quiet and family-friendly.
   Three-bedroom duplexes can be rented at Emerald Isle for anywhere between $350 and $725 a week. Cottages with as many as three bedrooms and two bathrooms are also available for between $395 and $925 a week, depending on their location.
   Those who do not wish to pack their suitcases for overnight vacations this summer can take advantage of several attractions right here in Carter County and Elizabethton.
   The local Chamber of Commerce has issued a calendar of events highlighting activities throughout the year. This summer, local residents have the option of taking in some Elizabethton Twins baseball, or they may be part of several historical events taking place throughout the county.
   The summer season will get kicked off in downtown Elizabethton with the annual Covered Bridge Celebration. The 37th annual celebration will be held from June 4-8. Arts and crafts vendors, a Kids Island, antique cars and musical entertainment will be available nightly.
   Local history enthusiasts may choose from a host of activities that will take place this summer at the Sycamore Shoals Historical Park. The Native American Festival will take place June 7-8. Music, lectures and dance demonstrations from the Cherokee culture will be some of the events featured at the festival.
   The Wataugans outdoor drama will be held for the 25th consecutive year at the Sycamore Shoals Historic Area. The two-act drama about early settlers in Northeast Tennessee will be held July 10-12, 17-19, and 24-26.
   There will be several other attractions sponsored by the historic park during the months of July and August including the Watauga Valley Art League display and the annual Carter Mansion Celebration. For more information contact Herb Roberts, park superintendent, at 543-5808.
   The Roan Mountain State Park will also be hosting annual summer celebrations. The 57th Rhododendron Festival is June 21-22. The local park boasts of having the largest natural rhododendron gardens in the United States.
   Independence Day activities will also be held at the Roan Mountain State Park. Festivities take place all day, and conclude with a fireworks display at 10 p.m.
   For more information concerning any of the local summer events, contact Larry Gobble, Elizabethton/Carter County Chamber of Commerce, at 547-3852.