Leaving LeConte: Couple end 12 years as managers of mountaintop lodge in Smokies

The crew at LeConte Lodge are connoisseurs of sky gazing. Whether it’s an orange sunset blazing across the horizon, an August meteor shower, or the International Space Station orbiting at night, they’ve seen it all.

Two weeks ago, the crew and lodge guests were treated to a rare occurrence when a dense layer of clouds settled over the valley at sunset, leaving the skies over Mount LeConte, elevation 6,594 feet, crystal clear.

With Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg buried beneath a sea of clouds, the stars that night twinkled at full strength, unblemished by city lights. Nobody was more thrilled by the nocturnal pageantry than Chris and Allyson Virden, a married couple who have been the site managers of LeConte Lodge in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park since 2003.

Their last day as managers at LeConte was Tuesday, November 25th when the lodge closed for the winter. They say that after 12 years it’s time to leave the highest overnight lodge east of the Mississippi River for a world with electric lights, indoor plumbing and washing machines.

When LeConte Lodge reopens on March 23 for the 2015 season, the new site manager will be Ruthie Puckett of Decatur, Ala., who worked this past season as a crew member.

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