A one-of-a-kind theme park designed by a landscape architect needed a weather-durable, aesthetically pleasing hardscape. This called for acres of Pine Hall Brick clay pavers.
All photos: Austin Martin.
When a 100-plus-acre nature immersive theme park atop a mountain in eastern Tennessee first opened in 2017 it had to match the alpine beauty with a natural product for its winding walkways and gathering plazas.
The AnaVista observation tower at the peak of Anakeesta, which means “the place of high ground” in the Cherokee language.
Perched 600 feet above Gatlinburg, the park features thrilling ziplining, a 1,600-foot single-rail mountain coaster, a 50-foot-high tree walk, a scenic chair lift up to the park, restaurants, shops, and the striking AnaVista observation tower. When you’re not gliding through the tree canopy or rolling 25 miles-per-hour down the mountain, it’s a breathtaking place to take in panoramic views of the Great Smoky Mountains with food and beverages.
From elevated views, the red, buff, cream and gray Pine Hall Brick pavers give the park a sense of enchantment. On the ground, they beckon guests to stroll to all the park’s amazing features.
Concrete pavers, no matter how well they are manufactured, will fade and pit over time. Pine Hall brick pavers hold their color and look great over time as they age.
Anakeesta hosts over a million guests each year.Bentz wanted an aesthetically pleasing hardscape that wouldn’t get slippery in the mountain air fired with colors that would stand up to foot traffic season-after-season at the award-winning attraction.
And Anakeesta installed over 31,300 square feet of them, for its concourses, linking four thematic outdoor spaces:
Parkway Plaza: 15,000 sq. ft. – The entry point for all guests that visit Anakeesta where you find the ticket booth, Chondola (chair lift) loading area, Ridge Rambler open-air bus loading area and a retail store. This space is also used to showcase seasonally themed displays meant to entice Gatlinburg visitors to come Anakeesta.
Firefly Village: 6,000 sq. ft. – The original village that opened in 2017, this area offers the first impression for guests as they disembark from the Chondola. Retail shopping, an ice cream shop, restaurant/bar with scenic deck, welcome/photo booth, zipline check-in area and restrooms are all located within Firefly Village.
Black Bear Village: 5,600 sq. ft. – This Village opened in 2020 and is centrally located at Anakeesta. Guests arriving by Ridge Rambler disembark here. The elegant Cliff Top restaurant, quick serve dining, bar, retail, live music stage, firepit and splash pad are all located within Black Bear Village.
Vista Plaza: 4,700 sq. ft. – Located at the summit of Anakeesta, Vista Plaza is home to the iconic AnaVista tower and the award-winning botanical gardens, Vista Garden. Quiet scenic seating overlooking the Great Smoky Mountain National Park with firepit, event space, retail and bar.
Pretty cool, right?
Bentz wanted the pavers to unite the park’s plazas and villages, in both color and surface continuity.
“Clay and color are integrated together in the Pine Hall materials and will not fade,” said Bentz. “This means that the areas will look good for a very long time. Concrete pavers, no matter how well they are manufactured, will fade and pit over time.”
“Pine Hall brick pavers hold their color and look great over time as they age.”
Bentz explained that his installer recommended brick pavers, noting that their company didn’t like previous experiences with concrete installations as they did not stand up well to the elements.
As designer, Bentz relied on three installers. Firefly Village and Parkway Plaza: Rodrigo Coelho at Special Care Lawn & Landscape; Black Bear Village and Vista Plaza: Lynn Lamons at Segmental Partnership. The pavers were supplied by Acme Block & Brick.
At nearly 2,000 feet elevation, weather is definitely a factor, but there’s no better choice for big temperature changes than dry-set clay pavers.
Anakeesta is a first-of-its kind attraction, blending beautifully with the surroundings. It’s a huge success and special kind of outdoor fun.
“With a focus on outdoor recreation, this family-friendly attraction created a space where parents and children can experience the beauty of the great outdoors,” said Anakeesta partner Michele Canney. “From ziplining, mountain coasters and tree top skywalks to shopping, dining and relaxing spaces, Anakeesta is an innovative concept complemented by her innovative construction.”
Nature abounds on the edge of the Smoky Mountains, so it was imperative that the mountaintop park use the most appropriate materials and construction. Clay pavers provide a natural design flow throughout the park.