One-on-One with Dolly Parton
What makes the mountains of East Tennessee such a wonderful place for families?
It is one of the most beautiful areas in the whole world – you know Dollywood sits right outside Great Smoky Mountain National Park. It is the most visited national park in the whole country. There is so much to do here for families whether you are at Dollywood or Splash Country or someplace else. I think the people also make a difference. Our people are just friendly.
Do you spend much time at Dollywood?
I am there a lot! Publically I am always there to open the park and for the big parade in Pigeon Forge in May; I make appearances to open some of our other festivals and events. There are many other times I am there for business meetings and planning.
Where do you like to go on vacation?
My husband and I like to go out and hit the road together. Believe it or not, we like to go camping.
What was your best vacation ever?
It's hard for me to pick one. I have been blessed to travel a lot and to see a lot of things. Lots of places are great around the world, but they aren't home!
There is a video on the Dollywood website with this quote: "When I first envisioned Dollywood, I knew it would be a very special place where folks would come and enjoy the Smokey Mountains. More than that, they would come to know and love our way of life and the people that are so dear to my heart". How do you highlight the local heritage in your parks?
We do it a lot of ways. Most visibly are probably the crafts. We have the gristmill and all the craftsmen on the park. We also serve some traditional southern food. There is also the music we play. You always can hear the music from the mountains on the park – Southern Gospel and Bluegrass.
Having grown up in this area, what does it mean to you to provide a positive economic impact?
It's just great! That was one of my original ideas was to create jobs for the area and to try to provide for some of my people. It has grown well beyond my imagination and I dream pretty big! 50 million guests since 1986, more than $300 million in investment back into the parks and a billion dollars in payroll.
Can you briefly explain the mission behind creating Dollywood and your other family attractions?
When I first saw the Hollywood sign and thought about changing it to Dollywood and creating a park, it was about jobs and building the area. Once we built the park it became about providing a safe and fun environment for the whole family so we had something the entire family to do together.
Is there a person or persons that inspired you along the way and you still look up to?
I have a lot of heroes. I try to find something in everyone that I can learn from. If you are asking about Dollywood specifically, I have great love for my partners the Herschends.
Where do you like to visit in the South when you are not in Tennessee?
My husband Carl and I have seen a lot of the South. I am a southern girl and I love it all but there is no place like the Smokies.
Entertainment is such a tough business. What advice would you give young girls interested in music/songwriting?
I don't like to give advice. I give information when asked and let them make up their own mind. That is what I always tried to do is get the best information
Where did "Imagination Library" come from?
Oh, we started with the Dollywood Foundation we were giving money for scholarships (we still do) and we started a program to stop High School dropouts. As I remember the rate was about 30% at the time. We did something called the buddy program and partnered students who could help one another and hold one another accountable together. Well, the drop out rate fell to 6% and is still there. I asked what we could do to help kids not get to the drop out stage and some experts told me we'd have to start at birth. That's why we started with giving the books to kids right at birth. The idea was to encourage parents to read to their kids and to develop a love for books. So, we send an age appropriate book to children each month from the time they are born until they turn five and enter school. We now distribute about 700,000 books a month in 49 US states in Canada and in the UK. It just keeps growing.
What's your favorite dessert?
I like them all – at one time too much! I am partial to Banana Pudding.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Singing and writing and living out more of my dreams, I have new ones every day.
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