Dolly Parton on the future of Dollywood
“Don’t get so busy making a living that you forget to make a life.”
This is just one of the hundreds of “Dollyisms” spoken by the Backwoods Barbie herself, Dolly Parton.
Parton certainly has made quite a life for herself. She’s one of the best-selling female music artists of all time, with 10 Grammy awards, two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and a plaque on Nashville’s StarWalk. Additionally, she’s earned inductions into the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Grand Ole Opry and the Nashville Songwriters Hall of Fame, to name a few.
However, the country music legend has used her talents — which extend far beyond her abilities as a singer and songwriter — to create a life that is meaningful, joyful and sometimes downright surprising.
Take Dollywood, her theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, for example. In 1986, Parton collaborated with Silver Dollar City theme park owner Herschend Family Entertainment to take over the theme park and rename it “Dollywood.” Parton was raised in Sevierville, Tennessee, not far from the park’s location.
Why get involved with a theme park? Because no matter how much time she spent away from home, Parton has always felt the pull of her Smoky Mountain roots.
Her hope was that lending her name and likeness to Dollywood would bolster the local economy, provide jobs for nearby residents and create a place “where the culture and people of the Smoky Mountains would be celebrated and enjoyed by everyone,” according to Parton’s website.
TPG recently sat down with Parton to learn more about her plans for Dollywood’s future and why the park is so important to her.
Dollywood’s multimillion-dollar expansion
Now in its 38th season, Dollywood is the largest provider of jobs in Sevier County and draws in more than 3 million guests every year. Dollywood’s consistent growth has led to the addition of many attractions over the years, along with Dollywood’s Splash Country water park and Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa. However, Parton — Dollywood’s “dreamer-in-chief” — has even bigger dreams for her namesake park.
Sign up for our daily newsletter
In 2021, Parton announced a decadelong, $500 million investment in Dollywood, beginning with the opening of the family-friendly Big Bear Mountain roller coaster in May of 2023 and the 302-room Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, scheduled to open in the fall of 2023.
Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort
At the moment, Parton is particularly excited about the opening of Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort, comparing it to a “high-class wilderness lodge.” The resort, like all of Dollywood, will embody Parton’s love of the Smokies.
“I’m a mountain girl, so if I’m gonna have a park, it needs to have that touch,” Parton said.
Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort will bring the outdoors in with high vaulted ceilings, exposed beams, lantern-inspired windows and a large stone fireplace in the 4,000-square-foot, four-story atrium. Also, many rooms will feature balconies from which guests can take in the splendor of the Smokies.
There are also themed suites, family rooms with bunk beds, indoor and outdoor pools, a fire pit, a screened-in porch and other communal areas to foster family togetherness and connection — an example of Parton’s desire to make Dollywood a premier destination for families.
Parton’s dream of building a family-friendly destination
Whether at one of Dollywood’s resorts or inside the park, Parton wants families to feel like they are at home.
“Well, like they are at home if they were being totally catered to. We all wish we could have our own chef and someone to clean up our house all the time,” Parton laughed.
Dollywood truly makes you feel cared for and cared about. Examples include the restaurant server who calls you “darlin'” throughout your meal, the employee (or host, as they are called at Dollywood) who gives you a route that helps you avoid any steep hills when you ask for directions and the friendly faces handing out complimentary s’mores kits at the fire pit near the hotel pool every night.
In fact, it’s one of the things Parton is most proud of.
“I travel all over the world and talk to so many people who have come to Dollywood. The thing they talk about most is how nice the people are,” Parton said. “I take great pride in that … that’s just who they really are; you can’t train people to do that.”
Parton is also proud of Dollywood’s reputation as a clean, safe, fun destination for families, which is a big reason why the park’s expansion is leaning into adding more family-friendly offerings. The newly opened Big Bear Mountain roller coaster in the Wildwood Grove area of the park is a perfect example of that.
The coaster was designed so that everyone in the family could ride together and have a good time.
“We wanted to build a coaster that catered more to families and young kids, as well,” Parton said. “Kids love the suspense and the sound effects of the bear growling, but parents who ride it get to be kids again, too,” she added.
The future of Dollywood
Parton’s plans for Dollywood include even more opportunities for kids to be kids and parents to be kids right along with them.
“I think that’s what’s good about this park,” Parton shared. “Grown-ups can kind of be kid-like, too.”
There are plans for more resorts and possibly even a campground. (Of course, for the ultimate Dolly Parton experience, you can stay in her retired tour bus.) Parton, a perpetual dreamer, is also coming up with ideas for new rides and themed areas of the park.
“One dream spawns another, and so on,” Parton said. “We’re always dreaming.”
One thing is certain — Parton’s dream to create a destination where families can enjoy the natural splendor of the Smoky Mountains is more than a fantasy. It’s a reality that millions of families get to experience every year.
Her dreams just keep getting bigger, too.