theme parks

Did Dolly Parton sell Dollywood? Who owns Dollywood now?

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 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.

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.

Read Also: Where is Dolly Parton’s childhood home? Is it still there?

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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 really know. And Dollywood’s lips are sealed.

Dollywood, DreamMore Resort and Spa and Dollywood’s Splash Country water park represent a massive entertainment complex that conservatively is worth more than several European countries.

It is also expanding. Dollywood’s Heartsong Lodge and Resort is set to open next year in 2023.

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.

Read Also: A look at Dollywood HeartSong Lodge and Resort, Suite 1986

Is Dolly Parton involved at all?

Absolutely, she is. Park executives refer to the iconic singer and songwriter as the Dreamer-in-Chief. 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.

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 the 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? Let us know in the comments.

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