When realtors Mike and Becky Johnson were charged with the task of selling a stunningly scenic 1,000-acre property along the Foothills Parkway in Blount County, they passed. Instead, they bought the land for themselves and turned it into a camping and fishing haven for their family.
The result? Memories that were so special, the Johnsons eventually decided they couldn’t just keep them in the family. In 2004, they began construction on Butterfly Gap Retreat, a picturesque, peaceful bed and breakfast that caters to couples.
“It was a dream of theirs,” said Mandy Sitzlar, one of the Johnsons’ daughters who helps run the resort. “They had a vision for the property.”
Today, adults-only Butterfly Gap is a treasured getaway for honeymoons, babymoons, weddings (Butterfly Gap also hosts events) and others seeking a romantic escape. The resort offers the kind of privacy not often encountered in a bed and breakfast – seven individual houses, each on their own five-acre plots to maximize the sensation of seclusion.
“We can be completely full and people hardly run into each other. It can very easily feel like you’re the only ones out there,” said Sitzlar.
But don’t mistake seclusion for isolation: Butterfly Gap is in the heart of Blount County’s wilderness, but it’s only ten minutes from Maryville, 20 from the airport and a short drive from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
“Staying with us, you get the best of both worlds – you get the proximity to the park and all the things in Townsend, which are excellent to go see by day,” Sitzlar said. “Part of your stay can be experiencing the activities out there, and you can spend a couple days never leaving our property, too.”
Those who choose to stay on the property find plenty to do. Butterfly Gap boasts a fully stocked 12-acre lake open to fishing, paddle boarding and kayaking. There’s a trail that leads to a scenic overlook on the edge of Chilhowee Mountain and a fire pit behind the main office. And, of course, there’s the gourmet breakfast – hand-cooked by Becky, Sitzlar’s sister Laura Lockwood and Lockwood’s culinary-school-trained husband, Ryan. They deliver the breakfast to each cottage daily. As an added bonus, each house has a full kitchen.
“Some people stock up at the grocery store and never leave,” Sitzlar said. “A lot of people go out to nearby restaurants, which are about a ten-minute drive away.”
The contours of the land inspired each cottage’s modern-yet-rustic design, crafted by architect Gary Best – Becky’s brother.
“We gave [Best] a lot and said, ‘we’re going to build on this lot. Look at the terrain and build something based on the terrain,’” Sitzlar said. “We didn’t want to do what’s traditional to this area, because we feel like that’s been done.”
The priority: Building dwellings that showcased the environment around them.
“When you look at the outside you think the cottage is really modern, but there’s so much glass and window that it makes it feel rustic, because you have nature coming inside,” said Sitzlar. “It’s neat how much wildlife you can see out your window.”
“Why would you want to rent a place that looked just like your home? The houses are different from each other, and some people want to stay in a different house every time and check them all out,” Sitzlar added.
The houses may look different on the outside, but they all offer luxurious amenities on the inside; each cottage boasts satellite TV, an air jet tub and a queen- or king-sized bed, and many have large living rooms and screened-in porches.
Sitzlar and the Lockwoods take an active role in running Butterfly Gap’s day-to-day operations. Sitzlar manages wedding guests and public relations, while Laura and Ryan perform daily operations tasks and apply special touches, like making complimentary pint ice cream for every stay.
“We’ve done everything from cooking to housekeeping to running weddings and reservations,” Sitzlar said. “We made our own website. We’re jacks of all trades, and I think guests recognize that.”
And just as Butterfly Gap began as – and remains — a home for the Johnson family’s memories, it has become a meaningful marker for many couples, as well.
“It’s really cool for couples to come back to celebrate special moments in their lives,” said Sitzlar.
”When it’s your own, you just want to take care of it.”
For more information about Butterfly Gap Retreat, visit www.butterflygap.com or call (865) 984-6021.
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