“These are my mountains, my valleys, these are my rivers – flowing like a song. These are MY PEOPLE, my memories, these are my mountains, this is my home”.
When Dolly wrote the above lyrics for the 75th Anniversary of The Great Smoky Mountains National Park, she probably never thought it would hold a different meaning for the residents of Sevier County so many years later. Thursday, May 4th Dolly Parton surprised people as they filed into the LeConte Center to receive their final check of the My People Fund, the fund created to help those who lost their primary residence in the November wildfires recover. But this wasn’t the normal $1,000 check they expected. This day, Dolly matched the funds already received with a last check of $5,000 bringing the total received by each recipient to $10,000. “Over the last five months, we’ve given nearly 900 families $5,000 to help them recover. Yesterday, we had our last distribution and I went over to The LeConte Center to say thanks to all the volunteers and to help give out a few checks myself. We matched what they’ve received already with another $5,000 check. I know $10,000 can’t solve everything, but I do hope the money will help them to dream again”, Dolly said at a press briefing Friday morning. She also announced that at least $3 million will be contributed to the Mountain Tough Recovery Team which will serve the continuing needs of residents during the critical rebuilding period ahead.
At the same press briefing on Friday, Master Storyteller Dolly Parton opened a personal story, Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures Dinner and Show, featuring the romantic tale of her parents meeting and the rousing rivalry between the Owens and the Partons. “The guests who have been previewing the show love it,” Dolly said. “This is a story about my family that is fun and exciting but there is also a lot of heart. It’s a sweet story about my parents meeting but it is also an exciting competition between the Owens and the Partons”.
The story is told by resident storyteller, Applejack, and is filled with music, edge-of-your-seat special effects, thrilling specialty acts and competitions, athletic dogs and lovable critters of all sizes. This riveting mountain adventure is a non-stop and exciting journey taking you back to a time telling a tale of Dolly’s own family history and how the Partons and Owens finally came together, but not before a bit of friendly rivalry kept them apart. The annual Tennessee Mountain Games pits Partons and Owens in an action-packed competition to determine which side, Mountain or Holler, will be declared “The Best of the Best” in the Great Smoky Mountains! Guests to the show will be treated to a four course meal including items such as Avie Lee’s Fried Chicken, Grandpa Jakes Pulled Pork and Aunt Dorothy Jo’s Homemade Biscuits along with other mouthwatering “Sunday Dinner” favorites.
After being treated to a full show and meal at Dolly Parton’s Smoky Mountain Adventures Dinner theater, we were off to Dollywood for our very own sneak peek of Drop Line! Drop Line, Dollywood’s newest attraction, lifts guest more than 20 stories above Dollywood’s Timer Canyon. On the ride up, the gondola takes you on a 360 degree “birds eye view” of the Smoky Mountains. Once you are at the top, don’t get too comfortable because just as you start to get peaceful with the height, Drop Line will descend back to the ground with a thrilling rush of excitement at close to 80 MPH. Guest will find Drop Line standing in the former location of removed attraction Timber Tower in the middle of the Timber Canyon themed area of the park. Later this summer, Dollywood will also unveil another new attraction, Whistle Punk Chaser. This new pint sized coaster will be adjacent to Drop Line and the award winning Thunderhead wooden coaster. Packed full of twist and turns, this new junior coaster will get the kids ready to one day ride the bigger coasters at Dollywood with the rest of the family.
Later Friday afternoon, we rushed out to the Parkway in Pigeon Forge to watch Dolly as she led the way for her 32nd annual Homecoming Parade. She proved that you can’t “rain on her parade” in her customized “pope dome” sitting high atop her Smoky Mountain Strong float. This year’s theme recognized the Smoky Mountains and the recovery efforts after last November’s fires. Dolly was dressed in a full “Woodland Sprite” outfit with over 300 live plants and trees on the float that will be planted at her Dollywood Theme Park.
Saturday morning, we were up and back at the park for an emotional tribute to Don Warden, Dolly’s #1 Angel. Dolly first met Don back in 1967 when she started with Porter Wagoner. Don played the steel guitar in Porter’s band at this time. Dolly and Don became great friends and when Dolly decided it was time to leave the Porter Show, Don agreed to go along with her. Don became Dolly’s manager, her bus driver, her merchandise person, her tour planner, her accountant, and as she tearfully told us, her “Mr. Everything”. While trying to hold back tears, Dolly told us stories of her and Don through the years and why he means so much to her. Dolly brought his wife Ann and family on stage during the tribute to present them with three different plaques. One being a replica of a new star that is reminiscent of those on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. This star is placed directly in front of the tour bus parked at Dollywood that Don drove the entire time for Dolly.
This week we want to hear from you, our readers. If you are reading this online, you are in the right place. If you are reading a print copy of The Loafer, you will need to log onto www.theloaferonline.com and navigate to columns/Appalachian Wanderers and find this article. Once there, scroll all the way to the bottom and in the comments section tell us one of the following: 1. If you have been to Dollywood before, what is your favorite memory. 2. If you have never been to Dollywood before, why do you want to go? All comments will be read by our publisher and one lucky reader will be chosen to win a set (2) free Dollywood tickets for the 2017 season. Good Luck!