I couldn’t have been much more than 8 or 9 at the time.
It was 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 hate 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.
“Harrison Ford buys Morristown mansion.”
And the classic chestnut, “Dolly Parton sells Dollywood to Kanye West or China or Big Foot or George Clooney.”
Is the rumor true? Did Dolly sell Dollywood?
Once something like that is in the interwebs, it never really dies. 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 unless it was selling her share to her co-owners.
So who owns Dollywood?
Wait. What? Dolly does not own Dollywood? No. 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.
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 really know. And Dollywood’s lips are sealed.
Dollywood, DreamMore Resort and Splash Country represent a massive entertainment complex that conservatively is worth more than several European countries.
Throw in other Dolly properties (aka World Choice Investments) in Pigeon Forge, the Stampede, Pirates Voyage and others… it’s just impossible to guess.
Is Dolly Parton involved at all?
Absolutely, she is. Park executives refer to Dolly as the Dreamer-in-Chief, and it’s clear 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. And honestly, she probably could. If we’ve learned anything in this life it’s not to doubt Dolly Parton.
As evidenced with the Wildwood Grove Expansion, I think Dolly serves as an important voice and provides inspiration. Her love of the area and her childhood permeate each and every expansion and major initiative. Dolly is clearly involved with decisions, but she ain’t Walt Disney.
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.
Dollywood is a massive success, a cash cow and a family legacy.
For the Herschends 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? Let us know in the comments.
Click here to view the web story version of this article.
Sure, there are some popular men ‘round these parts, most of them former Volunteer football players in descending order from Peyton Manning.
But while we may have a few kings, in Tennessee, there is only one queen: Dolly Parton.
Ain’t nobody doesn’t like Dolly.
Born and raised in the hills of Sevier County – where the seat of her vast empire remains – Dolly used her immense talents and a keen business sense to rise to levels of fame that only a few reach.
Of living icons known the world over, there’s Paul McCartney, The Rolling Stones, Michael Jordan, Pele and Dolly Parton.
While East Tennesseans are happy to share Dolly and her accomplishments with the world, there is no place where she is beloved like her hometown.
Why do we love Dolly Parton?
Well, let us count the ways.
6. Her music
“If you talk bad about country music, it’s like saying bad things about my momma. Them’s fightin’ words.”
One of Dolly’s many famous “Dollyisms”
First, few songwriters have had longer, more successful careers than Dolly.
McCartney? Paul Simon? Stevie Wonder? You won’t find Dolly mentioned among the all-time greats as often as she should be.
Some of that is genre bias, but also some of it is that Dolly’s other successes overshadow the massive talent that got her started. A quick perusal of her work shows massive hits and cultural touchstones, spread across multiple decades.
That kind of success and longevity is rare, but the talent doesn’t stop at songwriting.
Her voice – with that East Tennessee accent – was perfect for the coming wave of country music.
She could (and can) duet with almost anyone and in a genre that fell into cookie-cutter traps periodically, she consistently stood out both with her musical choices and her voice.
5. Her acting
“I’m not going to limit myself just because people won’t accept the fact that I can do something else.”
Dolly is a natural performer and her charm and charisma pop every time she’s on the screen. Whether she is co-starring with Burt Reynolds, playing in ensemble casts or taking a turn making Johnny Carson blush on the Tonight Show, few people in the world are blessed with more natural talent than Dolly.
It’s the realm of her empire she’s probably developed the least, often playing Dolly Parton-esque roles.
But watch some of the tender moments in “Steel Magnolias” and you’ll see Parton holding her own with some of the most talented actresses of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
4. Her look
“I’m like a cartoon! I’ll look this way when I’m eighty. I can see it now, people will be rolling me around in a wheelchair and I’ll still have my big hair, nails, my high heels and my boobs stuck out!”
From her over-the-top outfits, to her liberal use of rhinestones to her iconic collection of blonde wigs, Dolly’s iconic look is unapologetically like a 1950s mountain girl version of Barbie. Dolly has no interest in looking like anybody else.
“I’ve often made the statement that I’d never stoop so low as to be fashionable. That’s the easiest thing in the world to do,” she told Barbara Walters in 1977.
She even famously once entered a drag queen celebrity impersonator contest as herself and lost.
But it’s more than just her look. It’s the disarming way she handles herself, both bawdy and somehow sweet, like a bubbly, country version of Mae West.
3. Her sense of humor
“I know some of the best Dolly Parton jokes. I made ’em up myself.”
Among her many talents, Dolly Parton is quick-witted and genuinely funny.
She likes to play the role of a stereotypical blonde, but Dolly’s sense of humor reveals a quick, agile mind. Brash, bawdy and brilliant.
Dolly is always quick to make a joke at her own expense, often pushing the limits of what might be considered good taste if normal humans attempted it.
But with Dolly? No one ever takes offense. She’s a conversationalist in the tradition of Mark Twain, a natural-born storyteller. Watch Dolly work a room for 10 minutes and you’re guaranteed a handful of lols.
“I look like a woman but think like a man and in this world of business that has helped me a lot … by the time they think that I don’t know what’s going on, I done got the money and gone.”
From day one, Dolly was hustling. Underestimated because of her looks, her background, her accent, Dolly happily played her role, set the pieces on the chessboard and checkmated local entertainment impresarios before moving to Nashville, then Hollywood and doing the same thing time and again.
She’s built herself into a conglomerate and Dollywood, her namesake park, has grown from the rinky-dink former Silver Dollar City into truly one of the best theme/amusement parks in the country.
Growing by leaps and bounds, Dollywood is in a position to rival anyone in the country except maybe for Disney – and Walt had a 50-year head start.
“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader.”
Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library is a program that began providing a book a month to children in Sevier County from birth to age 5, quickly grew to all of Tennessee – then the United States.
Now, Imagination Library serves Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and the Republic of Ireland.
In 2016, when wildfires burned Sevier County and took the lives of 14 people, injured 134 more and cost millions upon millions of dollars to her home community, Dolly stepped up and organized massive fundraising.
Her My People Fund promised each family which had lost its primary residence in the fires $1,000 a month for the next five months.
When she arrived to help dole out the final payments, she brought the nearly 900 families an unexpected bonus – another $5,000 each for a total of $10,000 per family.
Then, Dolly revealed another surprise – the creation of the Mountain Tough organization to provide ongoing support to fire victims over the next three years and the pledge to fund it with at least $3 million.
Dolly Parton may live in homes in Nashville or Malibu or wherever in the world, but her actions showed her home remains in East Tennessee.
Do you have any additions to our list? Let us know in the comments below.
Click here to view the web story version of this article.
The first time I set foot in Pigeon Forge was 1987.
A 12-year-old Hoosier, I came to the South with my aunt and uncle. We played mini-golf, stayed in what was then a nice hotel (it’s gone significantly downhill) and did other things popular with tourists in the region at the time.
I don’t remember any desire to go to Dollywood, even though certainly I knew who Dolly Parton was – chiefly through her movies playing over and over again on HBO.
In fact, HBO is the reason I thought Dabney Coleman was the biggest actor in the world.
Dollywood would have only been a year old at the time – having converted from Silver Dollar City in 1985. It was still making its mark on the national scene. As a kid, the idea of Dollywood was still kind of strange. Dolly was a big star, but she wasn’t exactly Walt Disney.
Four years later, my step-dad got transferred to East Tennessee, and Pigeon Forge went from being an exotic – for Hoosiers – vacation locale to basically my backyard.
Dollywood tips and tricks
In the intervening years, Dollywood had already made great strides, beginning a 30-year journey from curiosity to a legitimately great theme park.
And as Dollywood has grown, I have as well. Over the years, I have learned to adopt certain tips and tricks to make going to Dollywood even more fun.
Here are a few tips only the insiders know that can make your trip better.
During peak hours, traffic in Pigeon Forge and Gatlinburg can steal tiny pieces of your soul.
Did you go on vacation for mind-numbing hours of debilitating gridlock? Oops. Sorry.
Sevier County officials, and presumably the Tennessee Department of Transportation, have done a lot of work to open up the entrances and help move people through. However, there are still plenty of times it’d be quicker to walk the length of the main drag than try and drive it.
Depending on where you’re coming from, there are some shortcuts.
The best way to get to Dollywood when the traffic is bad is to take Highway 411, which you can access from the east or north from I-40 at Newport or from the south or west by taking the Chapman Highway exit off I-40 in Knoxville.
Either way, take 411 to the intersection with Veterans Boulevard.
This used to be a little-known backroad, used only by locals, but the road has been widened and provides a bunch of lanes heading to the park. More people know about it, more people use it, but it is still vastly superior to taking the Parkway.
If you’re staying in Pigeon Forge proper, the Veterans Boulevard shortcut is useless. Instead, you might want to consider Teaster Lane if you can get to it.
It runs parallel to the Parkway and connects to the other end of Veterans Boulevard. It won’t help if you’re on the Southwest side of Pigeon Forge or coming from Gatlinburg, but it’s still a useful road.
The whole building-upon-an-already-existing site was great except for some of the transportation logistics.
There’s plenty of parking at Dollywood, but the tram system to and from park to parking lot can be one of the closest things to a disappointment you’ll find under less-than-ideal circumstances.
The drivers are great and friendly, but it’s just an outdated way to move people. Imagine you and 100 of your new best friends cramming in a disorganized queue and freezing to death waiting for an open-air ride back to the car in December.
There’s a fairly easy way to avoid all that mess. Straight cash.
Standard parking is $20. Preferred parking is $35.
You’re already laying down serious cash just to get in the park and enjoy the day. The upgrade to park close, avoid the queue crush and not have to ride the tram is the best deal they offer.
But here’s the real pro-tip: Gold season passholders receive FREE standard parking and a discount on preferred.
So if your family is considering season passes this year, consider making at least one of those passes a gold pass to enjoy the free parking benefit – plus a variety of lodging, ticket and in-park discounts including food.
One word of caution: The preferred lot is on top of a mountain. The walk down to the exclusive entrance can be a bit rough on the knees, but the climb back is brutal if you have mobility issues.
If you’re staying in Pigeon Forge, with a $3 wristband, you can also catch a trolley to Patriot Park and then transfer to a trolley to Dollywood.
Bonus pro-tip: Guests staying at DreamMore receive complimentary shuttle service to both Dollywood and Splash Country. That’s right, they get to skip this whole parking nonsense altogether. The more you know …
For additional parking information, check out the Dollywood website.
Remember, whichever way you park, booking with Tripster can sometimes save you a few bucks off of your admission ticket.
3. Plan ahead for a lot of walking
Look, many amusement parks have the good luck and/or foresight to be built on a relatively flat piece of land.
One of Disney’s best ideas was building his park on the flat second story. You walk up a little at the entrance and then never realize the Magic Kingdom is set on a roof.
Dollywood ain’t that. There are hills, mountains, dips, dives and hollers.
Plan your footwear accordingly. If you have mobility issues, they have scooters for rent, but on busy days they can get a little scarce.
If you’re wondering whether or not to bring your chair or rent one, I’d say bring it.
4. Take advantage of the free water at Dollywood
If you’re at Dollywood, there’s a good chance it’s hot and humid.
For those of us from the area, it’s part of life in the South, but if you’re visiting from somewhere with a less sticky, thick summer environment, it can be a bit of an adjustment.
Throw in the walking up and down hills and hollers and you’re going to need to replace some sweat.
Dollywood recognizes this and also knows it’s not a fantastic look to have patrons dropping left and right from heatstroke. As such, the park offers complimentary cups of water at all park restaurants and most food outlets. All you have to do is ask.
Dollywood also allows guests to bring their own water into the park.
Also, water fountains are located near all restrooms.
5. Purchase refillable mugs and snacks
Dollywood is a family-centric park. They also understand how expenses like food and beverage tend to add up once inside the park, especially for larger families.
But never fear – Dollywood offers a variety of refillable drink and snack options that will keep the entire family hydrated and well-fed throughout the day without breaking the bank.
Refillable options include:
Refillable souvenir mugs can be reused multiple times per season. You can even bring in souvenir mugs from previous seasons, but the discount isn’t quite as good.
You can also refill those popcorn buckets with pork rinds for a reduced price.
6. Have your kids measured at the park entrance
This little nugget is a huge time-saver.
If you have kids old enough to enjoy some of the rides at Dollywood, your first stop once inside the park should be at Dollywood’s centralized measuring station.
The measuring station is across from the Southern Gospel Museum and Hall of Fame Showstreet.
At the measuring station, a Dollywood host will measure your child and give them a color-coded wristband.
The color codes correspond with signs at each ride in the park that indicate whether or not your child will be tall enough to ride before you waste an hour in line only to be turned away in disappointment.
There’s a reason Dollywood is known as the “Friendliest Park in the World” and a large part of that reason is the little things like ride cubbies.
Yes, Dollywood offers lockers in which you can store your valuables for a price near the entrance like every other park in the world.
But unlike others (I’m looking at you, Universal) Dollywood recognizes that you might have stuff you need throughout the day that you’d rather not take on a ride or store in a locker. And so, Dollywood offers ride cubbies – places where you can store your stuff.
Plus, ride cubbies are free.
They’re not necessarily secure (honor system is in play here), so if you have the Hope Diamond on you, you might want to consider an alternate storage method.
But still, it’s nice to be able to ride without clutching your sunglasses, or purse or whatever throughout.
8. See Dolly at Dollywood
This is the big one. Dolly will occasionally make appearances at the park to announce the latest big show or ride or something.
These occasions are hard to pinpoint in advance and may just come down to the luck of the draw.
The best shot to see Dolly is early in the year. Normally, there’s a media day at which Dolly (schedule permitting) kicks off the new year with a little show and song.
During the show, she also celebrates season passholders and makes several appearances in the park (weather permitting) including riding in the daily parade.
If you want to see Dolly, this is the best way to do it. Ask park officials when the passholder celebration is, and you’ll have a decent chance to see Dolly.
9. See Dolly in the wild (incognito) at Dollywood
Over the years, I have become friendly with several people who work at the park, both on the operations side and on the entertainment side.
All have told me it is the gospel truth that Dolly has been able to take off her persona – wig, makeup and fancy outfits – and take in the park without being noticed.
I have been told by many reliable sources this is true, but I’ve never heard of someone successfully spotting an incognito Dolly riding the Tennessee Tornado.
Still, it’s probably worth keeping your eyes peeled for a little Where’s Waldo action – Dollywood style.
If you plan a trip to Dollywood, remember to check Tripster to save a couple of dollars off admission.
Have you been to Dollywood? Give us your best tips in the comments.