When they drove into Smokemont Campground earlier this year, Nancy and Bob Furlow had never been to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. As full-time RVers, the couple, married for over three decades, thought Smokemont would be just another stop on their long-running tour across the country.
“We noticed that the whole time we were here, there was no campground host,” Nancy says. “So, at the end of our two-week stay, I went up to the office and asked if they needed one, and they signed us on the next day. It was helpful that we had done a lot of activities and hiked the trails so that we could help the visitors.”
As a young man, Bob had always wanted to be involved with public lands, but his career took him in a different direction. “Smokemont was kismet for us,” he says. “They had a need, and we wanted to see what hosting was all about. I wish my eyes had been open to what’s happening out here, way back when. But it’s never too late to get involved.”
The couple describes Smokemont as perfect for recreational vehicles, with 44 dedicated RV sites. Centrally located near Cherokee, North Carolina, right off Highway 441, the campground is a favorite spot for large gatherings like family reunions. One reunion this season had over 100 relatives in attendance. The campground has easy access to trails, and the Furlows have seen all manner of wildlife, from black bears and turkeys to migrating warblers and even elk.
“Nancy and Bob Furlow have done an incredible job camp hosting at Smokemont Campground,” says Andy Linder, Supervisory Recreation Fee Specialist for campgrounds at Great Smoky Mountains National Park. “They are very friendly, welcoming to visitors, and always willing to help. I think they are both perfect examples of what a camp host should be.”
Smokemont’s beautiful scenery and accessibility keep many campers coming back each season, or even monthly. One of the most memorable visitors the Furlows met was a man who grew up working at the original Smokemont store—over 50 years ago.
“Some families say they’ve been camping here for up to 64 years,” Bob says. “Different generations, year after year.”
After serving at Smokemont all summer, the Furlows took over hosting at Deep Creek Campground just before Labor Day. They describe their role as similar to that of a hotel concierge: They help campground visitors with any information, reservations, or directions they might need.
“Plus, we’re campers ourselves,” Nancy says, “so we have good ideas of what people might be interested in.”
While Nancy points out that Deep Creek is more geared toward camping in tents rather than trailers, she also calls it a tuber’s paradise.
“This is a great place to come and cool off,” she says. “Relax. Get away from the heat or whatever’s going on in your state. We get a ton of people from Texas and Florida. They’re escaping to the Smokies just like we did, coming from Daytona Beach.”
Bob describes Deep Creek as smaller and a bit more remote than Smokemont. “There are great trails and three waterfalls you can hike to before coming back to camp down by the riverside.”
To Nancy’s surprise, despite all the recreational opportunities, some younger visitors seem most interested in her.
“The most exciting part for me is, I’ll be in my uniform walking around the campground, and the little girls look at me starry-eyed. They’re so excited to see a woman in a position of authority.”
Bob adds, “They look at her like she’s Wonder Woman.”
While they’re already heroes in the eyes of many guests, the Furlows are looking forward to coming back next year with a season’s worth of experience under their belts.
“We’re going to work again between Smokemont and Deep Creek next year,” Bob says, “and it’ll be great to see most of the same crews coming back. We’ll be a little more seasoned; we’ll know more of the trails. The more we can be helpful, the more we can learn, the better.”