Category: People

Janet Rock has recently retired after 28 years as the official staff botanist for Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The National Park Service’s loss is The Swag’s gain! Throughout her long career Janet monitored rare plants, helped inventory the park’s biodiversity, and conducted pioneering research on plants of concern such as ginseng, ramps, and mosses. Lately she has become intrigued with the abundant and incredibly diverse mushrooms of the southern Appalachian Mountains. She’s eager to share her newfound knowledge with Swag guests!

Because The Swag is situated at an elevation of nearly 5,000 feet, its nearby trails offer a wide variety of wildflowers from March into November. Hikes to Hemphill Bald and Purchase Knob are especially rewarding for wildflower and mushroom enthusiasts.

Janet will be accompanied by her husband, Steve Kemp, who also had a long career with the Smokies, but he as a writer, editor, and publisher for the park. He is a regular contributor to Smokies Life Magazine and is the author of several books, including Trees of the Smokies, Great Smoky Mountains Impressions, and, most notoriously, Who Pooped in the Park? Steve compliments Janet’s vast botanical knowledge with his ‘color commentator’ wit, and can also share his knowledge of birds, trees, park conservation issues, and history.

Janet and Steve will be leading hikes of 2-5 miles and presenting informative programs at The Swag. We are thrilled to have them share their vast knowledge with our guests season after season and hope you’ll come join us.


Category: People

To commemorate The Swag’s 40th anniversary in 2022, we partnered with Colby Sexton of West Ashe, to capture video of Dan and Deener Matthews, the founders and visionaries who built The Swag, sharing stories of how this special place came to be. We are grateful to Dan and Deener for sharing their stories, but even moreso, for the place they created. We hope you enjoy this 20-minute short film.




Category: People

We would like to introduce you to Danny Gentry, one of our wonderful members of the Maintenance & Grounds team at The Swag.  Danny has been a key part of The Swag family since 2011.

In 2011, after spending a long time at the Wellco factory, whose rise and fall was told well by the Waynesville Mountaineer, Danny faced a career change, and to The Swag’s good fortune, he applied for the Grounds position on Thursday and reported for his first day on the job the following Monday!

Danny Gentry The Swag

Danny, along with others on the Maintenance & Grounds team, is responsible for all 250 acres of The Swag’s property. On any given day you might find Danny cutting and splitting wood for our wood burning fireplaces, repairing the 2.5 mile driveway, or on the riding lawnmower to ensure that Gooseberry Knob is looking great! We are incredibly grateful to have Danny as part of The Swag team and hope you get to meet him on your next visit.

Danny grew up in Fines Creek and went to Tuscola High School, just down the road from The Swag. He remembers the blasts as I-40 was being built through Haywood County. He met his wife of nearly 40 years, Debbie, in the area. Debbie’s car had caught on fire and she had to pull over to use somebody’s phone. That somebody happened to be Danny’s grandparents who introduced the two of them. Over 40 years later, they are still in the area and had four children during that time.

Like many in the area, he has strong Scots-Irish roots but his Gentry ancestors actually came to the area during the Revolutionary War. The Gentry brothers defected from the British Army during the war and eventually ended up in North Carolina.

Danny—along with the rest of the Maintenance and Grounds team—are among the hardest workers at The Swag. Whether its raining, freezing, snowing, or it is a hot, sunny day, Danny and team work tirelessly to maintain the beauty of this place. We are grateful for him.

Come visit Danny at The Swag by reserving a room now or by calling 828-926-0430.

-David Colquitt

Category: People

Meet The Swag Staff: JimWe want to introduce Jim Rubendall. If you are neither a night owl nor an early riser, there is a decent chance you have not met Jim, as he works overnight in Guest Services.  Next time you come, however, come visit with Jim before you head out on a sunrise hike to Gooseberry Knob. He will have a warm cup of coffee waiting for you!

Jim grew up in Shamokin, Pennsylvania but met Mary, his wife, when both were working in Charlotte, North Carolina.  Between the two of them, they have five children and have recently adopted their 4-year old daughter, Harlyn. With a young daughter at home, Jim had been looking for an overnight position so he could be at home with Harlyn and Mary during the day.

In fact, Mark Higdon found and recruited Jim to The Swag from a local Sunoco station where Jim was working at the time. And we are so glad that he decided to come!  (I like trading convenience store / truck stop stories with Jim and Mark!)

Jim has also had a long career in the world of computers.  In 1966, Jim was involved in an elevator accident where a freight elevator broke free and pinned Jim to a wall when he was 27 years old.  The injury forced Jim back into school where he became a computing expert.  From the days of the early data processing systems (NCR 407 was the first that Jim worked on) to today’s computers, Jim has been working with computers and continues to operate his business, J Mar Business Services.

After we acquired The Swag from Dan and Deener Matthews, one of our biggest concerns was what we do on the overnight, as we are not at The Swag seven days per week. We are so blessed to have Jim at The Swag to watch over the property and prepare for the next day. He is a natural in the hospitality world, incredibly diligent, and a man of great integrity. We look forward to having Jim back at The Swag for many years.

Come visit Jim & Team at The Swag by reserving a room now.  You can also reserve a room or book a dining reservation by calling the Guest Services team at 828-926-0430.  And if you can’t sleep when you get here, come on down and spend some time getting to know Jim!

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Shelby Bakken, our Assistant Manager of Housekeeping at The Swag, which was recently named a Top Resort in the South by Condé Nast Traveler.  Shelby has been a key part of The Swag family since 2013!

Prior to working at The Swag, Shelby worked at the Cataloochee Ski Area in Ticket Sales and would babysit in her free time.  As most Swag guests know, Shelby works with her mother, Brenda, who also happens to be her boss!  Shelby is used to spending a lot of time with Brenda, as Brenda home-schooled Shelby for middle school and high school.

Shelby has two kids, a son, Walker, daughter, Harper, and our son, Will, always enjoys it when Walker comes up the mountain. Her favorite holiday is Halloween, so she particularly enjoys this time of year, and her favorite movie is Hocus Pocus.  Walker has asked Shelby to be the Incredible Hulk for Halloween, and we are hoping to get some photographic evidence in November!

Shelby—along with the rest of the housekeeping team—are among the hardest workers at The Swag.  Many of the guests don’t ever see the housekeeping team doing their work (they are often called “ninjas”), but we are incredibly grateful for Shelby and the rest of the team’s hard work.  And we are especially grateful this time of year, when The Swag is full of guests and these ladies work tirelessly.  She is a great mother and we are very lucky to have her here at The Swag.

Come visit Shelby & the rest of the housekeeping ninjas at The Swag by reserving a room now or by calling 828-926-0430.

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Emilie Rose. Emilie is our Assistant Dining Room Manager and a key part of our Dining Services Team at our award-winning mountaintop hideaway.

Emilie grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Tuscola High School in Waynesville.  She has three other sisters, DeeAnn, Susan and Sophia. Emilie was a cheerleader through middle school and high school and even performed in the halftime show at the 2010 Capital One Bowl in Orlando.

Prior to joining The Swag, Emilie worked at a retail UPS store in Clyde, North Carolina before leaving to become a stay-at-home mother to her son, Easton Richmond Fowler.  Easton’s father, Austin, was Emilie’s high school sweetheart and a former Team Member at The Swag.  While Emilie “enjoyed being there for all of his first-cute-baby-moments,” we are blessed that she is now with us at The Swag, and we even get to have the occasional Easton sighting at 5,000 feet!

Come visit Emilie at The Swag.  She will serve you a delicious meal at 5,000 feet. Swag guests receive three delicious meals per day, as well as hors d’oeuvres and afternoon “high tea” daily.  We do accept outside guests for Sunday Brunch, lunches, and dinners.  Book a room online here, or call Guest Services to make a dining reservation at 828-926-0430.

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Jill Metterhausen, a member our amazing Guest Services team, who started in 2014 with The Swag.  Deener and Dan quickly saw Jill’s talents and promoted her to be Director of Guest Services in 2015, a role she held for two seasons.

In 2017, Jill took the year off to spend time with her newborn son, Logan.  We were blessed, in 2018 to welcome Jill back to The Swag on a part time basis, which allowed her to spend more time with Logan and her husband, Eric. Since then, she has also served as a server and The Swag’s Master Gardener. In 2020, she welcomed her daughter, Emma and in 2021 returned to Guest Services as Assistant Director. She has worked in many roles here at The Swag, but Guest Services is where she enjoys the most.

Prior to joining The Swag, Jill was a full-time graphic designer.  She had a large number of clients, including the Biltmore, and an organization that we love at The Swag: Friends of the Smokies! In addition to her role in Guest Services, she has also offered her talents to help us roll out a rebranding at The Swag.

Like Chef Jake and Becky, Jill has strong Chicago ties.  She grew up there and married her high school sweetheart.  Eric is a pharmacist in the U.S. Public Health Service, and in 2010, Jill and Eric left Chicago for Juneau, Alaska!  After 2 years spent in “The Last Frontier,” the Metterhausens moved to Waynesville in 2012.

Her joy, kindness, and guest service is clear to all who see her.  Come visit Jill & Team at The Swag by reserving a room now and Jill will be there to help fulfill your requests and reservation needs!

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Brenda Haney, our Manager of Housekeeping at The Swag, the coziest mountaintop inn in the South. She leads an incredibly talented group of women and men on our housekeeping team.  She and her team are often referred to as “ninjas” because many guests never see them in action but always return to see the cleanest and coziest room imaginable.

Brenda grew up in Asheville, North Carolina, where she had dreams of becoming a baton twirler.  (While I have no doubt she’d be a great twirler, we are glad that she ended up at The Swag!)  While not directly related to baton twirling, it recently came to my attention that Brenda is a world class clogger.  At the Matthews Family Reunion at The Swag in late June, Brenda showed off her great footwork!

After spending time in Central America (Panama) in the 1980’s, she moved to Waynesville in 1991.  Brenda eventually settled just 5 minutes down the road from The Swag with her husband, Steve.  They have four children, one of whom–Shelby–we are lucky to have as part of The Swag family.  Brenda, or “Granny” as they call her, also has seven grandchildren. Brenda joined The Swag in 2009, after running a motel in the area and serving as a substitute teacher in Haywood County Schools.

A common phrase I have heard in prior jobs is “Speed of the Leader, Speed of the Team.”  That holds true for Brenda and the housekeeping team.  Brenda sets the pace and will not let anyone outwork her…and she does it all with a smile!  And while she leads her group of “ninjas,” it has been fun to see how many returning guests love to see and speak with Brenda.  We are lucky to have Brenda and we are lucky that she lives just down the road.  Some days she comes to handle and oversee room turnovers before returning home, only to come back later that night for turn down service.  Like I said, no one outworks Brenda!  We are grateful to have her as part of the Swag Team….Now we just need to convince her to show us some more clogging!

Come visit Brenda & her team of housekeeping ninjas at The Swag by reserving a room now at the coziest mountaintop inn in the South or by calling 828-926-0430.

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Mark Higdon, who is in his 15th season at The Swag.  Mark is a member of the Guest Services Team and, if you stay with us, there will be a good chance that you will speak with Mark before, during, and after you visit to our award-winning mountaintop hideaway bordering The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Mark Higdon at a mountaintop hideaway

Like me, before joining The Swag and entering the world of hospitality, Mark was in the petroleum industry.  After 30+ years working in the convenience store world, franchise consulting, marketing, wholesale fuel sales, and EPA compliance, Mark was “both a little tired and somewhat burnt out.”  He found his “outlet” nearly 15 years ago by working weekends in the Guest Services role.  As Mark describes it, “This allowed me to unwind, have fun, and experience an environment unlike anything that existed in my Monday thru Friday work world.”

And, boy, were we lucky that Mark decided to start working at The Swag!  In his free time (between a full time job and caring for his disabled parents for a 10-year period), Mark enrolled in a Hospitality Management Certificate Program with an emphasis on Customer Service offered thru Cornell University at the urging of one of The Swag’s great neighbors, Melle.

This season we were pleased that Mark decided to join The Swag in a full-time capacity.  He knows The Swag inside and out and it is a joy to hear him tell stories of The Swag’s history.

Come visit Mark & Team at our mountaintop hideaway by reserving a room now.  You can also call the Guest Services team at 828-926-0430.  There is a decent chance Mark will be the one who answers the phone!

-David Colquitt

Category: People

We are pleased to introduce Kirsten Peters, an outstanding member of our Guest Services Team. Prior to her current role, Kisten led all of our dining services, with responsibilities for delivering exceptional guest service at breakfast, lunch, hors d’oeuvres, and dinner.  Kirsten providing exceptional guest service at the Smoky Mountain resort

Kirsten, originally from Waynesville, was literally raised in our national parks.  Her step father is a park ranger and during her childhood, Kirsten spent time in Alaska (Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Glacier Bay National Park), Virginia (Shenandoah National Park), Missouri (Mark Twain National Forest), and–of course– in North Carolina in The Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Kirsten is also part of Smoky Mountain History.  She and her parents were the last family to live in the Cataloochee Valley, as they lived in the Ranger Station located in the Valley.  The station has since been turned into a bunk house for park volunteers.

She has remained close to her “roots”, working so close to the National Park. (The Swag shares one mile of border with The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, so if you cannot find enough hiking trails on our 250 acres, you have over 500,000 acres to choose from right out our front door!)

Kirsten delivers the highest levels of service and has a wonderful eye for detail  She does all of this while also raising two young boys!

Come visit Kirsten & Team at The Swag by reserving a room now or by calling 828-926-0430.

-David Colquitt