Stables operators end season, management
Posted: Wednesday, November 5, 2008 7:16 pm
By MORGAN SIMMONS
The Knoxville News Sentinel
TOWNSEND (AP) — When Hugh Myers and his wife, Verna, took over Cades Cove Riding Stables in 1965, they started out with eight horses, and the cost of a one-hour trail ride was $2.
Today, with 52 horses and two barns, the operation has become the busiest of the four riding stables in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, generating as much as $658,000 in revenue a year.
Sunday marked not only the closing of Cades Cove Riding Stables for the winter season, but the end of an era. When the stable reopens in the spring, it will be under new management for the first time in 43 years.
The National Park Service has awarded a new seven-year concession contract to Jack E. Bobo Jr., president of National and State Park Concession Riding Stables Inc. Bobo has provided various concession services at several Florida state parks over the past 19 years and already manages the Cades Cove Campground store.
Under the new contract, the fall operating season will be extended to Nov. 30, and horse-drawn equipment — rather than the motorized kind — will be used to do most of the trail work and some of the pasture work. Barbed-wire fencing will be removed and be replaced by barbless fencing, and fences will be moved farther from streams.
Also, the new concessionaire will offer limited souvenir sales and souvenir photographs.
“The selection of a new operator will never diminish the role the Myers family has played in the park,” said park spokeswoman Nancy Gray. “They have been an important part of the park’s history, providing excellent service to generations of visitors.”
Hugh Myers is 80, and Verna is 76. Both were born in Cades Cove, which today draws 1.5 million people a year, making it the most visited destination in the most visited national park in the U.S.
Hugh’s ancestry traces back to John Oliver, who arrived in Cades Cove in the early 1820s and purchased land in 1826. The John Oliver cabin is one of more than 70 historical structures preserved in the cove, and the oldest log cabin home.
Verna’s ancestors go all the way back to the Tiptons and the Birchfields, also among the original settlers of Cades Cove.
Before the Myers family began operating the riding stables, Hugh Myers already had inherited a lease from the National Park Service to raise a herd of beef cows on about 1,000 acres in Cades Cove. In the mid-’70s, as the park began phasing out cattle grazing, Hugh began helping his wife, who had been running stables single-handedly for almost a decade.
“I was in the office to start with,” Verna said. “After that, I was the person that picked the horses for everyone to ride. I worked as a guide, and after that, I drove the buggies.”
After the Myerses had been operating the stable for about 11 years, the National Park Service asked them if they had any ideas that might draw additional tourists. As a result, Hugh and Verna added hayrides and later carriage rides, both of which were immediate hits.
In the early days, passengers rode in a hay wagon pulled by a tractor. When the first wagon got full, the Myerses would pull a second wagon behind it like a passenger train.
Nowadays, the riding stable utilizes specially designed 45-foot-long hay wagons that can hold 60-75 people. On busy weekends in October, they had six hayrides going out every two hours. The 11-mile trip around Cades Cove usually takes two hours.
During their early years at Cades Cove Riding Stables, the family built fences around 410 acres down by the barn near the entrance of the cove. In the winter, they pastured the horses in 240 acres at the lower end of Cades Cove.
Before long, Cades Cove Riding Stables had set the standard for horse concessions in national parks throughout the U.S.
“We worked seven days a week,” Verna said. “We’d come home, eat supper, go to bed and do it again in the morning. It was a joy from the very beginning. It was a good way to raise a family.”
Hugh and Verna raised four children, two boys and two girls, in Cades Cove. After 1962, the family moved from a house without electricity at the far end of the cove on Tater Branch to a doublewide mobile home near the Cades Cove picnic area that had all the modern amenities. As the business grew, three of the four children, and several of the grandchildren, worked at the riding stables.
The Myers children attended school in Townsend, and unlike their peers, they didn’t get summers off.
“We thought God had sent tourists for us to play with,” said daughter Judy Johns, a park ranger in Cades Cove from 1976 to 1983. “They’d want to take our pictures. They’d laughed at the way we talked, but we didn’t mind.”
In the mid-1970s, Hugh and Vera moved out of Cades Cove to a house in Walland, where they live today. Hugh has Parkinson’s disease and retired a year ago. The stable has been run by his son and daughter, Rick Myers and Bonnie McCampbell, with nieces and nephews helping out.
The family currently is negotiating with the new operator to sell the stable’s existing infrastructure. Cades Cove Riding Stables is scheduled to reopen in the spring.
“I spent over half my life at that job,” Verna said. “I think I’ll visit from time to time for memory’s sake, but it will be odd going back knowing it’s not mine anymore.”
Information from: The Knoxville News Sentinel, http://www.knoxnews.com