Photo from Kelly Rusk / Wood-turned pieces by Red Saunders are among the products available for purchase at the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair.

The Gatlinburg Convention Center will be full of vendors for the Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair Oct. 8-25, and the event's promoter expects the crowds will show up as well over the next three weeks.

"This town is packed," Kelly Rusk said Wednesday as she and her staff helped the more than 200 vendors set up their booths for the Thursday opening.

"It's more full than it's ever been," she said of the fall-season tourists. "There's just so many people fleeing all of the places that have been shut down for so long."

Coronavirus concerns drew fewer vendors and sparser crowds for the July version of the Craftsmen's Fair, but Rusk said the fall fair is back at capacity for its 45th anniversary. "It's a full show," she said.

The National Park Service considers the entire month of October as one of two peak seasons for visits to the Great Smoky Mountains — the other is midsummer, June 15-Aug. 15 — so the timing of Rusk's shows couldn't be better. In nearby Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Dollywood has also put out a fall welcome mat with its Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights, which continues through Oct. 31.

Rusk said the Craftsmen's Fair consistently appears in Sunshine Artist Magazine's list of the Top 200 Classic & Contemporary Craft Shows, a ranking determined by participating artisans' votes.

"The crafters themselves vote on the best shows, based on sales," Rusk said. "We always rank well in that."

Visitors will find an array of juried, handmade items. "I would say that this year we probably have a bigger variety than usual," she said, attributing the change to some of the usual vendors opting to stay home and new vendors getting the opportunity to take their place.

The merchandise includes traditional wood nesting dolls, stained glass, wood-turned items, quilts and other textiles, furniture, pressed flowers, jewelry, watercolor and oil paintings, blown glass, leather works, Christmas decor, bath and body products and children's products.

"There's everything from high-end to rustic," Rusk said. "You can even get a primitive turkey call here."

The show will be open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily through Oct. 25 with a $10 admission fee. Some vendors will rotate in and out during the run of the show.

Even with the expected crowds, Rusk said the Gatlinburg Convention Center should be a safe space.

"It's indoors, but it's a great hall, more than two stories high," she said. "It's very spacious, with plenty of room for people to move around."

Except for the attractions in the Smokies, this will be an unusually slow weekend for fall festivals in the region. Only about a third of the festivals normally held in the area are still on the books this fall because of safety concerns and planning difficulties surrounding the coronavirus.

Closer to Chattanooga, the cancellation of the Prater's Mill Country Fair created one of the biggest gaps on the calendar for the second weekend in October. However, the grounds of the historic mill near Dalton, Georgia, are open for canoeing, walking the nature trails, picnicking, fishing and birdwatching, according to the fair committee.

A craft and bake sale previously announced for Saturday at Cloud Springs Baptist Church in North Georgia has been postponed a week due to the threat of rain from Hurricane Delta.

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OCT. 8-25

* Gatlinburg Craftsmen's Fair: Convention Center, 234 Historic Nature Trail, traffic light No. 8 on Gatlinburg Parkway, Gatlinburg, Tenn. Handmade products, artisan demonstrations, music, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. $10 adults.


* Harvest Festival and Great Pumpkin LumiNights: Dollywood, 2700 Dollywood Parks Blvd., Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Features artistic sculptures, elaborate fall scenes, artisans, seasonal food, entertainment. $79 ages 10-61, discounts for younger and older guests.