Sitting Down with Dolly Parton: 25 Years of Dollywood and More

Ask Dolly Parton what she considers to be behind the success of Dollywood theme park and she is quick to say, "families have a wonderful time here together. It (the park) has a little something for everyone."

With over 40 rides (including some thrill-inducing roller coasters, like the Thunderhead) and attractions (working blacksmiths and wagon craftsmen), it's no wonder as Dollywood celebrates its silver anniversary in 2010, the park remains as the number-one ticketed attraction in the state of Tennessee.

"It had always been my dream to have a place like this when I first started out singing. Before I ever knew it would be a success, I thought it would be wonderful to have a place up here to honor my family and my people – I love the Smoky Mountains. But I also knew it would be a smart business move as well."

And it has been. Receiving numerous accolades, such as Best Shows and Best Christmas event at the 2009 Golden Ticket Awards that recognize the "best of the best" in the amusement industry, in arguably one of the more extremely challenging industries, Dollywood hasn't strayed from its main goal/purpose: creating memories worth repeating.

And repeating visits is exactly what guests do, because not only does it seems there's something new to discover or experience at Dollywood; but also, it's comfortable and welcoming – much like Dolly herself.

Recently, Dollywood has unveiled a new musical show, Sha-Kon-O-Hey! – Land of Blue Smoke that pulls at nearly everyone's heartstrings it tells the story of a family preparing to leave the area now known as the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. If you aren't taken away by the performance itself, perhaps you will be by the songs, which Parton wrote.

New in 2010 is the two-acre Adventure Mountain, the nation's largest challenge course. Appropriate for both adults and children, it offers four challenge courses with at least eight obstacles per course. It's a great way for families to have fun, enjoy the surrounding scenery and stay active.

As for Dolly's favorite part or ride at the park, that's easy, it's the shows.

"The thing I most about the park has to do with my family. Many of my relatives work at Back Porch Theater and I love knowing that they are there. We all know the same songs, and I enjoy walking on stage when they least expect it and singing with them. Sometimes they'll let me do the lead part."

Overall, she points out, it has been a wonderful 25 years for her.

"These have been some of the most wonderful moments I've spent in my whole life."

She laughs, "I can't believe it's been 25 years."

Splashin' Around Splash Country

While it's a big anniversary for Dollywood, Dollywood's Splash Country is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year as well. And what is a celebration without a new addition.

At 300-feet with four lanes, Slick Rock Racer is about speed. It's also about getting wet while speeding down your slide lane. Laying belly down on your mat, you travel head first down your slide lane while picking up speed as you hit the bumps.

This slide joins a host of other slides including the 70-foot-tall Fire Tower Falls, the state's tallest twin speed slide

Touching Lives Beyond the Parks

Coinciding with Dollywood's 25th anniversary was the 25 millionth books handed out by Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. The recipient of that milestone was a four-year-old Birmingham, Ala., boy.

"It's a good feeling anytime you can do something, "she says. "It's my belief that people who are in a position to help, should help."

"Children have always been important to me. "

Established in 1996 in Sevier County, Tenn., the Imagination Library provides an age appropriate book to participating children ages five and under in know 1,200 communities throughout the nation, Canada and the U.K.

"I had no idea it would become this big. We were just happy to get it started," she recalls. "When you dream, you hope they come true. You don't know if or how they will. However, this one came true and it's a wonderful feeling."

Once the children reach five years old, they've amassed about 60 books that include Dolly's favorite, The Little Engine That Could.

"It's important for children to have a chance to express themselves and build up their confidence. Unfortunately many don't get a chance to have a great education. When you learn to read, you can self-educate yourself. "

She adds that it's important to her to help children in their early year, the most impressible time in their lives.

"I'm involved in a lot of charities, but none as I enjoy as much than just working with the children."

Inquiring about Dolly's reading habits, she says she reads everything.

"I love a good story. I read and let my imagination go."

And she still picks up The Little Engine That Could from time to time.

"I remember it helped me. I'm the 'little engine that could,'" she says. "It's proof that is dream big and work hard enough, you can succeed."

Located in Pigeon Forge, the 150-acre theme park is home to not only rides and attractions, but also four of the South's largest festivals. There's always something going on at Dollywood for all ages. The park is opened nine months out of the year, March 27, 2010 – January 1, 2011. For ticket prices, times and additional information, visit their website at dollywood.com

Another new feature is Dollywood Vacations. Located within Starr Crest resort, you can select a two-or-three level cabin. Don't think these are remote cabins, either. Many come with full kitchens, separate bedrooms, pool tables and a lot more. In addition, those staying with Dollywood Vacation (dollywood.com/vacations_home.aspx) receive perks that include free VIP parking at Dollywood, discounts at the park and half-price tickets to Dixie Stampede (www.dixiestampede.com/pigeonforge.php).