Dolly Parton's Dollywood is getting a major expansion, new rides

Dollywood will be getting a bit bigger in 2019 with a new nature-themed land, Wildwood Grove, the park's largest expansion in its 33-year history.

Dolly Parton and Dollywood President Craig Ross announced Wildwood Grove at a media event. The expansion will cost $37 million, which is more than the park cost when it was originally built, according to Ross.

“We’ve been investing heavily. This will be one of the final pieces to the $300 million commitment we made over 10 years' time. We’re actually a few years ahead of schedule,” said Ross, mentioning the Dollywood Company’s 2013 commitment to invest $300 million in 10 years.

“Yeah we are, and I’m going to have to get out there and make some more money,” added Parton, laughing.

Wildwood Grove is the first new area added to Dollywood since Wilderness Pass in 2008.

Wildwood Grove will sit adjacent to Dollywood's Timber Canyon area. Its entrance will be located across from Mystery Mine. Right now, the new area is mostly gravel, dirt and the beginnings of a few buildings.

Wildwood Grove will feature 11 themed attractions. Here's a list of some of them with details, according to a Dollywood fact sheet.

    Wildwood Tree: A 55-foot tree that grows from a cluster of natural rocks and boulders, which will serve as the area's focal point and feature a nighttime show and concerts. Its canopy will be adorned with thousands of butterflies.

    The Dragonflier: A suspended 453-meter roller coaster that lets guests soar like a dragonfly.

    Black Bear Trail: A ride where kids can hop on the backs of mechanical bears for a trek around the area.

    Sycamore Swing: A leaf boat swing which will swing guests back and forth.

    Treetop Tower: A ride that sends guests 40 feet into the air in giant acorns and spins them around to see the Smoky Mountains.

    Mad Mockingbird: A ride that spins guests in circles, and they can control their experience by moving a sail.

    Frogs & Fireflies: A ride where guests can hop on frogs and ride them as they race each other around a lily pad.

    Hidden Hollow: A 4,000-foot indoor, climate controlled climb structure with slides and games.

    Wildwood Creek: An oasis with pop jets and splashing pools.

    Four new costumed characters and entertainment including Flit and Flutter, butterfly ambassadors for the Wildwood Tree, and Benjamin Bear.

    Till & Harvest: A restaurant featuring fresh Southwest items including burritos, salads, pulled pork, slaw, a topping bar with salsas and a walk-up window with churros and ice cream.

In addition to the attractions, $1 million will be used to landscape the area with more than 400 trees and 1,000 shrubs, according to a Dollywood press release.

In additional to offering new experiences, Parton said Wildwood Grove will also supply a need of the park: to provide more space for guests.

"We needed to open it up more where people could actually be able to get around better," Parton said.

"And rather than just waiting in the same lines, if they were waiting, they could actually go and do more things and have easier access on the park, more fun things to do, but to make it more open and easier and to ... feel like they have choices rather than just being stationed here or there to get around 'cause we grow every year, and the park is just full of people, so you have to provide for all the needs."

Like with any Dollywood addition, the team at the park reaches out to Parton for her insight and for ways they can implement her memories into what they're working on.

"I'm not in every meeting of course, and they work without me, but they also like to draw on my childhood, my background and talk about what was important to me as a kid, the kind of things we did as children living in the mountains," Parton said.

Wildwood Grove's inspiration comes from Parton's time as a child exploring the forests, creeks and wildlife in the Great Smoky Mountains with her family and friends.

"And this is about like kids just exploring nature, and we were part of that because we didn't have a lot of things like Dollywood and places like that to go then, so we really were part of nature and all the things that this area is all about, so it's fun to actually sit and throw my ideas out and get excited about theirs," she added.

The goal of Wildwood Grove is to bring families together, help them bond and explore nature, according to Parton.

"We were talking about the fact that kids don't get out in nature enough anymore. Everybody's so caught up in all their gadgets, all the social media, all the things that they do in their games, their video games and all the stuff that they do that they don't actually even know there's an outdoors hardly anymore," Parton said.

"So we felt like this was a great thing that we could do for kids to really explore and to be adventurous and to find their own little true self, their own little natural selves, rather than all the technical stuff."

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Maggie Jones

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Published August 9, 2018