PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) — A five-day event meant to celebrate the natural beauty of the Great Smoky Mountains is back for its 31st year. Wilderness Wildlife Week 2023 kicked off on Tuesday.

Wilderness Wildlife Week is widely recognized as one of the southeast’s largest gatherings of nature and wildlife experts. Jon Elder, the Special Events Manager for the Pigeon Forge Office of Special Events, said the event is not just for tourists, but for locals as well.

“We do have a lot of hikes that are going on, we have a lot of classroom lectures or seminars that are going on that are fantastic,” said Elder. “If you want to learn about the wildlife of the area, about the plants or the animals, this is the event you want to come to.”

One of the experts with the Owl Ridge Raptor Center stopped to show off her owl friend as WATE interviewed virtually with Elder.

“We rehab birds of prey, that’s all we do,” Lisa Thomason said. “Obviously, ‘Beak’ is a big Great Horned Tail, he’s an educational bird, so we do have some non-releasable birds that we use for programs.” She explained they had just wrapped up a pellet program for children to dissect owl pellets.

Wilderness Wildlife Week runs from January 24 -28 with more than 120 individual events and nearly 90 specialists. This year’s event is headquartered at the Ramsey Hotel & Convention Center. All events are free to attend.