Diving into the internet rumors regarding Dolly selling Dollywood
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. And yet, this one seems to remain one of the top queried Dollywood-related phrases, year after year.
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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.
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.
How much is Dollywood worth?
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.
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, Musk 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.
Were you drawn to this article after hearing the internet rumors? If so, let us know in the comments.