Dolly Parton herself was on hand to introduce the daring aerial ride. Of course, she protested at the thought of riding it, as well as other thrill rides in the park. “I always say I will lose something,” she said, but the truth she revealed was “... plain scared.” The school-yard merry-go-round, she explained, was her speed.
The new Barnstormer, a $5.5 million family thrill ride, is set in a barnyard-themed area which also includes play areas for younger guests.
Parton said she remembers hearing “daddy and granddaddy” tell about barnstormers who flew above their crops doing crazy stunts to advertise their performances at the old barns.”
She said, “My new Barnstormer ride offers folks those same breathtaking moments, high in the sky above Dollywood. And I have recreated a critter-themed barnyard that reminds me of growing up on the farm here in the Smoky Mountains.”
The Barnstormer features two pendulum arms with seating for 32 riders. Seated back to back, riders travel progressively higher on each swing of the Barnstormer’s massive arms, reaching a maximum speed of 45 miles per hour and 230 degrees of rotation. At its peak, the Barnstormer reaches a staggering 81 feet in the air, taking riders high above the barn‚ rooftop and the area’s treetops. It has a ride capacity of 450 passengers per hour and a 48-inch minimum height requirement.
The Barnstormer is housed in a traditional red barn on the Owens Farm, which attests to Parton’s family’s rural upbringing.
In fact, several members of her family were present to share in the celebration. Dolly introduced aunts, uncles and cousins as hugs, hellos and waves were exchanged. A family bluegrass band kicked off the festivities. Dolly told of singing and playing music in her grandfather’s church.
The Dollywood opening this year makes 26 years of operation. The 150-acre family adventure park in Sevier County has climbed to be the No. 1 ticketed attraction in Tennessee, offering 40 rides, along with restaurants, shopping and craft demonstrations. Located near the entrance to Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Pigeon Forge, it is open nine months of the year and hosts four of the South’s largest festivals.
The park’s live entertainment features country, bluegrass, gospel and Appalachian music and was honored with The Golden Tickets’ 2007 Publisher’s Pick for best theme park. Dollywood also is a two-time winner of the Golden Ticket Award for Best Christmas Event.
Each year, park goers can go around the world during the Festival of Nations, which heads the season. A firm believer that music unites us all‚ regardless of the language in which it is delivered‚ Dolly was inspired to add the international Festival of Nations, a celebration of music, dance, food and art a few years ago, which has become a highlight of the spring season.
And especially for the children, there’s Dollywood’s KidsFest. Dolly says she has always felt all children were intended to be hers and that’s why she created the summer-long event KidsFest just for kids and their families.
One of the favorite eateries in Dollywood is Aunt Granny’s Restaurant serving the best Southern specialties. There you’ll find a sumptuous buffet with meats like fried chicken, barbecue and dumplings, flanked by old-fashion veggies, including greens, pinto beans, creamy potatoes and a salad bar. For dessert, pick up a piece of lemon meringue pie, moist coconut cake or luscious chocolate cake. Believe it or not, the name is inspired by the fact that Dolly’s nieces and nephews refer to her as “Aunt Granny” — hence the restaurant.
Does anyone remember Cas Walker’s gospel show in Knoxville, sponsored by his popular grocery markets? Well, you can walk into Cas Walker’s General Store right in Dollywood. Walker gave Dolly her first break in TV and the mercantile store is a tribute to him.
You can’t go to Dollywood without catching a production in the Celebrity Theater. Her 1994 album, “Heartsongs” was recorded in the theater and in 2001, a one-year production, “Paradise Road: The Life and Songs of Dolly Parton,” was introduced on the Celebrity stage.
Sometimes, you can catch Dolly there after a “Festival of Nations” group performance.
But Parton is not just about performing. She founded the Dollywood Foundation in 1988, a not-for-profit foundation which supports a variety of projects for the promotion of education. Although it began in her own native Sevier County, it has expanded, reaching beyond Tennessee and across the nation and into Canada and the U.K. with the Imagination Library.
The Imagination Library provides a free book every month to preschool children from birth until kindergarten. The program is active in 1,200 communities in 46 states, six Canadian provinces and the United Kingdom. In 2010, the Dollywood Foundation mailed 7.1 million books — 30 million since the program was introduced.
In 2005, Southern Living editors named Dollywood one of their favorite places in the South and, each year, Dolly serves as grand marshal of her very own parade sponsored by the City of Pigeon Forge on Friday evening before Mother’s Day. The parade and Dolly’s Homecoming each have been recognized by the Southeast Tourism Society’s April list of Top 20 events in the Southeast.
No other place offers such a variety of entertainment, education and family fun. Where else could you find a museum detailing a country girl’s journey to international superstardom ... ride a coal-fired steam train, or visit a museum dedicated to the legacy and legends of Southern gospel music?
The Southern Gospel Music Museum and Hall of Fame tells the story of timeless music passed down from one generation to the next. Southern gospel music traces its roots back more than 100 years when hymns were the language of Southern churches, who chose to spread God’s word through gospel music. And so, the Southern gospel music industry was born.
It’s all at Dollywood where adventure lives on in a setting that captures and celebrates mountain traditions — making memories worth repeating.
For more information, visit www.dollywood.com.