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Did Dolly Parton Sell Dollywood? Who Owns Dollywood Now?

dolly parton at HeartSong event

Rumors are cropping up yet again about Dolly Parton selling Dollywood. But is there any truth to the rumors? Pictured: Dolly appears at a media event for the new HeartSong Lodge and Resort (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Please note, that TheSmokies.com may receive commissions for links in this article that lead to purchases from third-party vendors.

I couldn’t have been much more than 8 or 9 on a spring morning and I was in bed dreaming of baseball or Star Wars or some other of my boyhood passions. “John!” my mom shouted. “Wake up! It’s snowing. You won’t have to go to school today.” I threw off the covers and sprang to the window. No snow, just green grass and a gray Indiana morning. It was April 1 and I was the fool. I started to write that it made me dislike April Fool’s Day forever. But April 1 is my wedding anniversary. I may have been the fool, but I am not a fool, so let’s move along.  

I think of that memory each spring as the internet tries desperately to trick me the same way my mom did all those years ago. “Aliens discovered.” “Harrison Ford buys Morristown mansion.” And the classic chestnut, “Dolly Parton sells Dollywood to Kanye West or China or Big Foot or George Clooney.” It’s not being renamed Yeezywood any time soon. It’s simply another April Fools’ Day joke.

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Dollywood sign in Pigeon Forge
The Dollywood theme park is undoubtedly one of the main attractions for many visitors in the heart of the Great Smoky Mountains (photo by Morgan Overholt/TheSmokies.com)

Is the rumor true? Did Dolly sell Dollywood?

Once something like that is in the interwebs, it never really goes away. Periodically, someone gets hold of an old link or revives an old Facebook post and here we go again. So. To answer the question at hand: No. Dolly Parton didn’t sell Dollywood. I’m not sure she could if she even wanted to with co-owners involved.

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So who owns Dollywood? 

Wait. What? Dolly does not own Dollywood? She owns a piece. She partners with an entertainment company that started in the Ozarks in the 50s and 60s, Herschend Family Entertainment, founded by Jack and Pete Herschend of Branson, Missouri. Their Chicago-based parents visited the Ozarks. Enamored with the area, they bought a 99-year lease on a kitschy tourist operation in a cave that was once a vigilante hideout. 

Jack and Pete’s dad fell ill shortly after obtaining the lease in the 50s, but the pair worked with their mother to build an entertainment empire that includes Silver Dollar City in Branson, Missouri. Herschend Family Entertainment bought Goldrush Junction in Pigeon Forge in 1976 from Art Modell, owner of the Cleveland Browns. The following year, the attraction was rechristened Silver Dollar City Tennessee. The Herschends made some improvement over the ensuing decade, but Pigeon Forge’s Silver Dollar City – at least in my memory – was a third or fourth-tier theme park.

That is until a fateful partnership changed everything. In 1986, Dolly Parton – a Sevier County native and superstar musician, songwriter and actress – fulfilled her dream of giving back to her hometown when she bought a stake in the theme park and lent her name, image and life’s story for the park’s theme. The park with her image has since soared to great success. It is among the best in the industry today.

Dolly Parton at Dollywood
Dolly Parton makes an appearance at her theme park in TN (archive photo by John Gullion/TheSmokies.com)

How much is Dollywood worth? How much do they make each year?

This also seems to be a burning internet question: How much is Dollywood worth? Dollywood is a private company, so the answer is, there’s no way for the general public to know. And Dollywood’s lips are sealed. Dollywood, DreamMore Resort and Spa, Heartsong Lodge and Dollywood’s Splash Country water park represent a massive entertainment complex that conservatively is worth more than several European countries. Throw in other Dollywood Company properties (aka World Choice Investments) in Pigeon Forge, including Dolly Parton’s Stampede, Pirates Voyage, a series of Dollywood cabins and others… it’s nearly impossible to guess.

Is Dolly Parton involved at all?

She is. Park executives refer to the iconic singer and songwriter as the Dreamer-in-Chief. She has input on the park’s vision if not day-to-day operations. Dolly herself is invested in Dollywood, not just in money.

My wife has never been able to get out of referring to Dolly as if she’s up in the boardroom pouring over spreadsheets and reviewing schematics. Of course, she probably could. If we’ve learned anything in this life it’s not to doubt Dolly Parton. As evidenced by the Wildwood Grove expansion, I think Dolly serves as an important voice and provides inspiration. Her love of the area and her childhood permeate every expansion and major initiative. Dolly is certainly involved with decisions.

Dolly Parton performs HeartSong
Dolly even makes semi-annual appearances at Dollywood, but mostly on opening day, or for special events and announcements (photo by Daniel Munson/TheSmokies.com)

Will Dollywood be sold in the future? 

I don’t see it happening for a long time. Partially due to logistics. The list of people or companies who could afford to buy it is fairly short. We’re talking Bezos, Gates, Buffet (Warren not Jimmy) or an entity like Disney World. Dollywood is a massive success, a cash cow and a family legacy. For Herschend to sell, it would take a monster offer. You’d have an easier time buying a major sports franchise. Seriously, if the LA Clippers are worth billions, how much would Dollywood et al go for? It’s almost unfathomable.

Would Dolly ever sell her shares?

It seems unlikely at this point. As important as her singing and songwriting, her acting and her philanthropy are, Dollywood – at least from this vantage point – seems to be positioned to carry her real legacy. It’s the perfect place to celebrate her long, illustrious career and the parts of her personality that are often overlooked. Seriously, the woman’s business acumen is amazing. 

Were you drawn to this article after hearing the internet rumors? If so, let us know in the comments. Click here to view the web story version of this article.

34 thoughts on “Did Dolly Parton Sell Dollywood? Who Owns Dollywood Now?”

  1. I worked for Dollywood from 2007 to 2015 and Love Ms Dolly And her family. Her Family are good friends of mine. I was very close personal friends with Ms Dolly’s Uncle Bill Owens for many years and other family members too!! They are all amazing and I love them all very much. As far as Info goes for Dollywood the only info I could ever find out on my own was talking to a old co worker that works at The Dollywood Finance Management Office at Dollywood and they told me that Ms Dolly only owns 30% In Dollywood and Herschend Family Entertainment Company. But Someone else told me that she is 50% – 50% Partners with The Herschend Brothers And Herschend Family Entertainment Company. I also found out a couple of months ago that The Old Dollywood President is still working for the company, but is in Cincinnati, Ohio working for the company now. The New Dollywood President is a old Executive from The Six Flags Company. Oh.. I also found out from our local news here in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee (The Mountain Press) that Dolly Parton, Dollywood, and Herschend Family Entertainment Company lost over 250 or more Million Dollars since the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic in 2020. God Bless Ms Dolly, Dollywood, And Herschend Family Entertainment Company!! Some people also told me that Six Flags bought Dollywood and other people say that Dolly sold out to The Disney Company, and other people say that Dolly doesn’t own shares anymore, But I think the only person that can really give you the answer you are looking for would be none other than Ms Dolly Parton herself!! That is if you can get an interview with her. But I think that Ms Dolly would say “My Beautiful Lips Are Sealed”!!

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  2. I work for one of Dolly’s other properties, and it’s pretty well known throughout the companies and region that Dolly only owns a small part of the shares of Dollywood. But she’s certainly doing something right — her businesses are bringing in the money, and she successfully runs her part of the business to keep it going on her name alone. She’s a very humble, sweet and generous lady!

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  3. The Harrison Ford part might be true. It may not be for him however. Morristown is where his wife is from and her parents still live there.

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  4. I just wish it wasn’t so expensive. Or have a 3 day special including. A weekend totally free. Meet Dolly, and stay a choice of dolly’s resorts/hotels.

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  5. I hope Dolly keeps Dollywood forever and it stays Dollywood as long as it is in existence and becomes a major part of her legacy beyond her time on earth.

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  6. Beautiful lady inside out. Beautiful entertainment for all. Those that complain cost really need to check out prices at other places and wowsers those cost a small Fortune. Due to terminal illness i haven’t been there in yrs. But if I can get half a chance I’d be there come sun up.😇

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  7. Favorite park. October is favorite month because of southern gospel month. Been at least 6 times and spent 2 days each time. Great park. First class act.

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  8. My wife and I went to Dollywood for Thanksgiving week 2020.
    We enjoyed ourselves, we were very surprised to see that downtown Pigeon Forge and Dollywood wide open for business. I’m retired military so my wife and I got a discount which really helped out my pocket. It’s a very nice place.

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  9. I was able to visit Dollywood for the 1st time Last week of July 2021 and I was amazed and I loved it it I can’t wait to return in December The icing on the cake for that would be to have the opportunity to meet the Queen herself miss Dolly Parton I have been a fan of hers since a small child love all of her work with love the opportunity To just meet with her and say hello

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  10. Dolly Partin is great. Been to Dollywood once loved it. Love Souther gospel music from Shelby co Ohio

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  11. I have never been to Dollywood, but it has been my dream to go as long as I can remember!!
    We planned to go for our 20th wedding anniversary in 2020, but covid put an end to that idea…we still plan to go at some point. We’ve also heard it’s extremely expensive & reading these comments here confirm that…ugh! But still a dream to go as I’ve loved Dolly since I was little, often feeling I have a kindrid spirit with her! It would absolutely fulfill my ultimate dream if I could simply tell her face to face, “Hello, you are the most amazing person on earth to me; EVER, bless your precious heart & I truly love you”!!
    THAT, would be the ultimate for me!
    God has truly blessed you, dear Dolly!

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  12. I went to Dollywood many years ago, and had a wonderful time. So many things and acts to see and hear! Well maintained and entertaining. Wish Dolly had been there. She is such a kind and generous person, not to mention her beautiful voice and musical gifts. I respect and adore her.

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  13. Why is it so expensive when dolly wants to help the poor people? Need to have a low income week so all the kids can enjoy

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  14. Would love to visit but too expensive. I’m retired and have a son with down syndrome I am raising. We Love Ms. Dolly!

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  15. Been to Dollywood at least 22 times and loved it Everytime. Good price for all the fun and entertainment and all the dinner shows. Great car shows too… Love Tenn.

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  16. It’s a wonderful experience. Just went in July 2021. Got 3 day tickets for 110 a person. It’s no more expensive than any other park once inside and they have so many different things to do besides just rides. We enjoyed the museum and live musical shows and the firework/Droid show at the end of the night was fabulous.

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  17. My partner and I have been going to Dollywood as our Christmas gift to each other for over 16 years. We’ve also been during the Halloween season. It’s our favorite place to visit and great southern gospel music abounds!!

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  18. Dolly should put up a parachute ride like we had at Brooklyn New York. I know it would be a great draw to the public. I have been to Dollywood many times an had a great time with grandchildren.

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  19. I’ve been to Dollywood since back n 1985. It was overwhelming, loved it so much.So much history as myself littlegirl. I would anybody to go one time. The price should be reduce for lower income families. We’re kids of all ages!!. Love my BLUE SMOKIES

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  20. We had season passes for years but finally had to stop because it got too expensive. We will miss it terribly

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  21. I am a 68 My ticket was same price as a child’s. I rent electric chair to ride. My daughter’s ticket was full price. We had a great time visiting the park. There is so much to see. This was my daughter’s first time to go she is 33. I think it was great to go online and can pay ahead for shows and Dollywood then you only pay your room & food. It’s a good way when you are on budget. We will be back again. God bless Dolly and all the people that work there. Dollywood is a fun place.

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  22. I hope she never sell Dollywood I love it there there is some parts of the park that is so peaceful I could stay there all day even come back the next day and stay again I just love Dollywood and Sevierville Tennessee and when I was there we also went to the Dixie Stampede and I loved it which I also went to the one that was in Myrtle Beach but it’s no longer there I wish it would come back to Myrtle Beach I love the shows that they did and I love the food they have

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  23. I would like to visit Dollywood ..My husban an I have been to Branson Missouri at the Dixie stampede. My husband and I love the show… we love the great food that was provided. I have never met dolly
    Herself in person ….just have seen her on the TV. Although I would love to meet her in person. She is my kind of lady. I hope All good things go Well For her going forward. God Bless her
    In everything she does. And she will leave a great legacy behind her one day. I love you Dolly Parton as a great friend fan of yours.!!! 2/14/2022 Keep Up with the good work.😊🖐❤️👋

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  24. Everyone keeps saying Dolly only owns a small percentage of Dollywood, since when is 50% “a small percentage”?

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  25. I’m 61 years old and would love to visit Dollywood and meet Dolly in person, but cant afford the prices.Have loved her since I was a little girl. Wish there was a special going on for lower prices so others who can’t afford the prices can go.

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  26. Its a shame that not all can go because of how expensive it is. I don’t think they would go broke if they had special days where the prices were much lower so people of lower income could also enjoy Dollywood. As of now the park is basically for the rich like pretty much everything else. Dolly being the person she is you would think she would try to arrange something like that. Just think about all the people and children that would love to go but will never go because of the extreme prices.

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    • Hi Shawn! Are you local? They do have something similar where locals can get in for $5 for a donation that benefits Sevier County Non-Profits. It is usually in early November

      Reply

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