‘Hello Dolly’: Dollywood reaches 35th anniversary milestone

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SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. (WATE) — East Tennessee theme park Dollywood reached a historic milestone on Monday.

Dollywood opened to the public on May 3, 1986. There was already a small theme park in Pigeon Forge, then called Silver Dollar City, country music star and Sevier County native Dolly Parton was able to put her name on it and change the face of Sevier County forever.

WATE-TV at the grand opening of Dollywood in 1986

“I have a big dream of building a center or a city or being involved in a place in East Tennessee, my hometown up in Gatlinburg which is one of the most wonderful places in the world, called Dollywood USA,” Parton told Barbara Walters in an early 1980s interview.

In the early days, it was unclear if the park would be successful. Fast forward 30 years and those doubts are just memories. Outside a global pandemic, Dollywood employs more than 4,000 people. It’s now the largest ticketed attraction in the state and brings around 3 million visitors to East Tennessee every year.

A recent study at the University of Tennessee found the annual direct and indirect economic impact of Dollywood to be more than $1.8 billion. It found the park helped create more than 23,000 jobs for the region.

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