PAYING IT FORWARD: HOW EVERY DANCING BEARFOOT STAY MAKES A DIFFERENCE
In November of 2016, Chuck and Cindy Schmidt had owned their Sevierville, Tenn. log cabin for just a month when the Chimney Tops 2 Fire swept through 11,000 acres in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The fire took several lives and destroyed hundreds of structures but miraculously spared the cabin.
“That night we decided that we had been spared for a reason, and we have always been pretty lucky,” Chuck said. “We had a feeling that the cabin was meant to be something more than just a vehicle for us to make money.”
At the time, the Chicago native had been dreaming of retirement in the Smokies. Chuck and Cindy had been vacationing there for years, but Chuck’s love for the mountains goes all the way back to his family trips there as a kid.
In 2016, the couple decided to finally trade in their weekend getaways for a place they could call their own. They bought the two-bedroom log cabin with plans to eventually move to the Smoky Mountains for good.
During renovations, they fondly remembered each of the cabins they had rented for their own vacations in years past and decided they wanted to create the same experiences for others, too. So, they opened the home to guests when they weren’t using it themselves, naming the cabin Dancing Bearfoot®.
“I worked as a wedding DJ for years when I was younger, and during my set late at night, I would play a slow song that was perfect for ‘dancing barefoot and hanging on your woman,’” Chuck said. “It’s easy to picture slow dancing barefoot as being something romantic, and from there it was simple to put the ‘bearfoot’ spin into the name.”
Guests have found love at the property, particularly for its authentic and cozy log cabin atmosphere. Before the pandemic, the rental was booked for around 68% of the year, hosting families and couples from empty nesters to newlyweds for three or four nights at a time. Chuck described reading Dancing Bearfoot’s guest book as one of his favorite things about sharing the cabin with visitors.
They manage the home together with American Patriot Getaways, a property management company that handles cleaning, maintenance, reservations and marketing, while Chuck and Cindy handle additional marketing, special guest experiences, and a program to give back to the ecosystem around them.
PAWS, PEOPLE, PARK…
After their good fortune in being spared by the Chimney Tops 2 Fire, the Schmidts decided to pay it forward through their Our Cabin Cares Project, a program to give back to the community’s many members.
The avid animal lovers started first with the Appalachian Bear Rescue, an organization that helps orphaned and injured black bears receive the medical care needed to return to the wild. The Schmidts donate a portion of every Dancing Bearfoot stay to the rescue, as well as certificates for free stays they can auction off at fundraisers.
“We have 13 cubs and two yearlings at Appalachian Bear Rescue today, and we simply could not get these bears back to the wild where they belong without the support of people like Chuck and Cindy,” said Dana Dodd, the organization’s executive director.
The rescue often cares for bears ill or injured as a result of human interference, especially when people feed them. Dana stressed the importance of cabin owners teaching their guests how to keep themselves and the bears safe during their visits to the Smokies. To help, the Schmidts provide their guests information from BearWise, a group helping people live responsibly with black bears.
The Schmidts wanted to give back to the people of the Smoky Mountains, too, so they also donate a portion of each stay to their local chapter of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, a Catholic organization that provides financial assistance to community members in need of food, clothing, or other necessities.
What unites all walks of life in the area is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the most visited national park in the U.S. “Nobody would come to the area without the National Park. We were helping the animals and we were helping the people, so we decided that we had to help the park, too,” Chuck said.
So, the Schmidts also donate to Friends of the Smokies and the Great Smoky Mountains Association. Both help preserve and maintain the park while educating the public about the wildlife and history of the area.
… AND A PODCAST
To the Schmidts, it’s important that local small businesses benefit from tourism, too. Chuck and Cindy feature local spots on their website to help guests discover special experiences, shops, restaurants or other places they may not have found, like many vacation rental hosts. But unlike most, Chuck also hosts his own travel podcast, An Outsiders Guide to the Smoky Mountains.
He created the series after listening to other podcasts that would mention only the already well-known tourist attractions and towns in the area. “I want to encourage people to open their minds and go to some of those more interesting, off-beat places that are all over the Smoky Mountains,” Chuck said.
One of Chuck’s favorite places to visit and promote: Doc’s 321 Cafe and Market Place, a small restaurant operated out of a renovated 1980s school bus just outside of Gatlinburg.
Although Dancing Bearfoot had a rough spring during the Covid-19 travel shutdowns, they’re back to hosting this summer. Now more than ever, travelers seek out isolated, secluded and relaxing stays like those provided by Dancing Bearfoot – and the communities they visit need their business.
Chuck finds great joy in supporting both. “When you walk through that door I want you to completely forget your normal life and walk away from all of that stuff,” Chuck shared.
The Schmidts see Dancing Bearfoot’s future as providing ever better experiences for their guests and growing their support of the community wherever possible.
“Every cabin owner could be doing something to give back to the communities in which they’re drawing from,” Chuck said. “The Smoky Mountains and Appalachia in general could use the help. There are a lot of organizations in the area that could use the help and funding, so if we all just gave a little bit, we could make a big difference.”
Are you planning a visit to the Smokies and are wondering how to fit it all in? Check out our sample itineraries: https://dancingbearfoot.blog/2018/08/30/smoky-mountains-vacation-itinerary-day-1/
If this is your fist time coming to the Smokies and renting a cabin check out out blog post in what to look for when renting a log cabin.
Thank you for reading. If you’d like to learn more about our cabin or other great things to see while visiting the Smoky Mountains please visit us at Dancing Bearfoot.com.
Like our Pizza Bear? Check out the other great artwork from Kenton Visser https://www.kentonvisser.com/