TOWNSEND, Tenn. – For families looking for a destination that includes mountain adventures, outdoor exploration, heritage and history, Blount County provides all of this in an authentic Appalachian atmosphere. Located in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, the community’s attractions and events showcase East Tennessee culture, history, heritage and traditions. From exploring how settlers lived in the Smoky Mountains hundreds of years ago or seeing ancient artifacts dating as far back as 5,000 B.C. to learning about the history of the railroad in the Great Smoky Mountains, the educational opportunities are abundant. “We provide educational opportunities year-round for travelers who want to experience the history of an area when they visit,” said Tami Vater, director of Tourism for the Smoky Mountain Tourism Development Authority. “We have found fun ways to weave our heritage throughout the community from regular events that showcase Appalachian traditions to a historic bike trails to numerous history-based attractions.” The community hosts two festivals each year in the spring and fall that provide demonstrations of Appalachian culture, music and food. In addition, special exhibits and events are held throughout the year to focus on specific areas, such as fiber arts, wildflowers or quilting. Visitors will want to explore the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center, which offers first-hand experiences in the history of the area through an interactive and educational tour of the facility that showcases how the area has evolved from 5,000 B.C. to 1930 through Native American inhabitants to European settlers. Offering visitors a glimpse into 7,000 years of history, the Great Smoky Mountain Heritage Center demonstrates Native American and pioneer lifestyles through pottery, hunting, cosmology, medicine, music, games and trade. The Heritage Center contains 11 historic outbuildings, two galleries featuring Native American and pioneer living, a Transportation Gallery displaying the evolution of the region’s travel, a 100-seat auditorium and a 500-seat covered outside amphitheater offering a panoramic view of the Smoky Mountains. A must see is the most visited spot in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park Cades Cove. Described as an open-air museum, it is 1,800 acres of wide-open space nestled along the base of the Appalachian Mountains. The Cove’s rolling hills, meandering streams and generous selection of plants and wildlife, as well as a handful of structures remaining from its first settlers in 1819, let visitors see what life was like in the Smokies during the 19th and early 20th centuries on a short drive, hike or on bicycle. While the historic sites in Cades Cove are preserved for visitors to enjoy, one thing that attracts visitors year after year is the changes the park goes through each season, making it appealing throughout the year. During the spring and into the summer months, various animals, such as raccoons, skunks and chipmunks, are highly visible. Approximately 1,500 black bears live in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park. But wildlife isn’t the only thing that attracts more than two million visitors a year to Cades Cove. More than 1,500 kinds of flowering plants produce a rainbow of color from March through October with 60 to 70 species in bloom at a single time. Headed by Colonel W.B. Townsend, for whom the town was later named, the Little River Railroad and Lumber Company brought new industry to the Townsend area and Blount County, providing new jobs and communication to the outside world. However, the railroad was stopped in 1938, after the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was developed. Yet, its legacy lives on through The Little River Railroad Museum, a non-profit organization that preserves the history of the railroad and lumber company, as well as the town of Townsend. Tucked away in the foothills of the naturally majestic Smokies stands the oldest school in the state and one of Blount County’s historical treasures. Built two years before Tennessee became a state, the one-room log schoolhouse is named for Sam Houston, a statesman and pioneer from East Tennessee. Visitors to the Sam Houston Schoolhouse can also see a number of reading materials from the 19th century, including books of the “Iliad”. Those interested in exploring the communities of Blount County and learning about the Appalachian heritage of the area should visit www.SmokyMountains.org for a calendar of events and more details about area attractions.