By Michael Williams
The queen of country music, Dolly Parton, promised a big announcement at the popular theme park that bears her name and she didn’t disappoint. On Wednesday, Parton invited members of the press to join her and Governor Bill Haslam to announce a major expansion of Dollywood that is expected to cost more than $300 million over the next decade and create more than 2,500 jobs.
The plans for the next decade include a new ride that will open in 2014 and a 300 room resort coming in 2015. The new ride will be the Firechaser Express and the new resort has been dubbed the DreamMore Resort.
The new ride is a rollercoaster for the entire family.
“The height requirement is just 30 inches,” said Craig Ross, president of Dollywood. “It will be suitable for the entire family due to the height requirement.”
The new resort will be built on 100 acres of land adjoining Splash Country. The resort will feature a homey feel from Parton’s childhood.
“When I was growing up, the front porch of our home was the center of activity,” Parton said. “We all met there and socialized and I often sang using a tin can on a stick as a microphone. The resort will feature front porches with swings and hammocks and places for marshmallow roasting.”
Tennessee State Commissioner of tourism Susan Whitaker delivered a report that indicated the tourism trade in the Volunteer State was booming. According to Whitaker, tourists spend more than $50 billion a year across the state of which more than $1 billion is generated in Pigeon Forge.
Parton introduced Governor Bill Haslam who spoke of the impact Dollywood has had on the state’s economy. According to Haslam, Dollywood has spent more than $250 million since Parton took the park over in 1986 and currently employs more than 2,500 people. The expansion will double the number of employees.
“I was in Tokyo. Japan last year and went into a country music bar where I saw a woman on stage singing Dolly’s song ‘Here you come again,’” Haslam said. “There were people there who were impressed that I was from Tennessee. Not because I was governor, but because I had met Dolly. That should give you an idea of the impact she has had around the world. Dolly has literally become the state star that is known around the world and all of us appreciate what she and Dollywood means to the state. ”
Along with the major expansion, Parton is very busy with other projects. She has just completed a new CD and she is filming a new Christmas movie that will be shown on the Lifetime Channel.
“We have completed a new show that will be performed her at Dollywood during the Christmas season,” Parton said. “I will play the ghost of Christmas past. I will be appearing in the show in the form of a hologram.”
The new coaster is a firefighter themed ride that takes the rider on a dizzying ride from end to the track and then backwards. Although, construction has not yet begun, Parton, with her classic “Backwoods Barbie” persona joked she wouldn’t be riding the attraction.
“I won’t ride it,” she joked. “I can’t afford for my hair or my bra to catch on fire.”
Parton will soon go on a musical tour once again across Europe and will end the tour in Australia where she will introduce the Imagination Library to the Land Down Under. To date the program, which provides free books to children from birth to the age of 5, has given more than 50 million books to children in an effort to stamp out illiteracy.