Dolly Parton opens  Dollywood’s largest  expansion

Dolly Parton speaks at the opening of the Wildwood Grove expansion at Dollywood.

There’s an extra buzz in the air when Dolly Parton is known to be on the park that carries her name.

It’s a little bit like getting to go to the North Pole and seeing Santa walking the halls.

Rumors float about where she might pop up, whether be a VIP event, media meet and greet or a performance for season ticket holders, getting a glimpse of the legend becomes the premier attraction when she’s there.

That electricity was evident last month as Parton was on park as she officially opened the largest expansion in Dollywood history with music, humor and her trademark flair.

Parton, dressed in a sparkly silver outfit complete with butterfly wings, welcomed guests with a new song about Wildwood Grove, a $37 million expansion based on Parton’s own childhood imagination growing up in the Sevier County mountains.

“When I was a little girl growing up in the hills of the Smoky Mountains, I’d often let my imagination just run away—something I still do now—dreaming these big dreams about what it’d be like to venture off with a family of bears in to the woods or how fun it would be to hitch a ride with the butterflies and dragonflies,” Parton said. “All us kids would splash and play in the creeks and ponds around home and have these daydreams about the world around us, and that’s what’s so special about Wildwood Grove. We’ve been able to create a new area to allow families to experience some of those exact dreams we all had when we were little.

“Wildwood Grove is so special to me because so many of the same daydreams and imaginations from my childhood have now found a perfect place at my Dollywood. I hope families will enjoy laughing, playing and exploring together in this great new place that truly does feel like home for me.”

The section features three new characters for guests to meet: Benjamin Bear, a large friendly black bear and Flit and Flutter a pair of butterflies who will serve as the section’s ambassadors.

At a media event opening the section, Parton called the two butterflies to the stage for a photo op and – in showcasing her trademark humor – stuggled to remember their names, working her way through a series of words that start with “fl” before briefly settling on Floozy, drawing a huge laugh.

Wildwood Grove, which increases the parks size by about 20 percent, is built especially for families with small children. Though there are rides and entertainment for all ages, Wildwood Grove was designed with lots of seating and shade and places where the kids can play while mom and dad, or grandma and grandpa, take a rest.

The Dollywood Company President Craig Ross explained the significance of the newest addition to the storied theme park.

“Without doubt, this is one of the most exciting days in the history of our company,” Ross explained. “It is rare in our industry that a park adds a completely new land in its entirety, and as we continue to grow and set attendance records, we needed to add more area to give guests more room to spread out and explore. Additionally, we were able to take many of Dolly’s childhood dreams and create experiences that are uniquely Smoky Mountain-themed and really help tell the story of this beautiful area.

“I know our guests will be thrilled with the great diversity of attractions they will be able to enjoy when they visit Wildwood Grove. We’re extremely proud of the fact that there are experiences here that every member of the family will love and enjoy,” Ross said.

The centerpiece of the expansion is the Wildwood Tree which catches the eye as lively butterflies shimmer in the daylight and dazzles at night as the butterflies glow and dance through the tree top.

The Wildwood Tree comes to life each evening during a unique nighttime experience which begins June 15. Each season of the year features a spectacular new experience for guests. The Wildwood Tree features nearly 650 lighted butterflies (orange, blue, yellow, pink and multi-colored) and almost 9000 leaves.

The expansion features several new rides including Treetop Tower which takes riders up to 40 feet in the air in a giant acorn which spin around the top of a tall oak tree before gently drifting back to the grove floor.

They can also ride a thrilling “leaf boat” on the Great Tree Swing.

Even the bears are friendly in Wildwood Grove, as they let guests meander with them through their own natural habitat at the Black Bear Trail. If smaller guests need a quick break, Hidden Hollow contains a 4,000 sq. ft. climate-controlled area with climbing structures, slides and games where kids and their parents can enjoy play time full of exploration.

Nearby, families scream with delight as they take a ride with Tennessee’s state symbol—the mockingbird—in an experience they control themselves at The Mad Mockingbird. Others dip and dart through geysers while suspended from dragonflies on the area’s signature ride attraction, Dragonflier.

Wildwood Grove also features new merchandise and dining options for park guests. Till & Harvest, which is expected to open around Memorial Day, provides the perfect blend of Smoky Mountain flavors and fresh Mexican cuisine.

The menu features a variety of build-your-own style entrees such as burritos, bowls, salads and nachos all filled with wood-fired meats, fresh vegetables and flavorful sauces. Along with the Smoky Mountain Mexican flavors, Till & Harvest also provides a spacious open-air patio for families to enjoy the sights and sounds of Wildwood Grove while they enjoy their meal.

Mountain Grove Merchants is the one-stop-shop for guests looking for the perfect gift or souvenir to celebrate their adventure in Wildwood Grove.

Nearly $1 million has been invested in Wildwood Grove’s landscaping, with more than 400 trees and 2,300 shrubs creating a beautiful, yet decidedly natural atmosphere to enjoy. As the landscaping continues to mature, the visual appeal of the area will only increase.