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Back to Background Releases

Where can an adventurer find a variety of wonders in one place? Wonders that can only be provided by the majesty of our national symbol, the bald eagle, in its natural outdoor setting? The first wing coaster in the U.S? A museum detailing a country girl’s journey to international superstardom?  The nostalgia and romance of a ride onboard a coal-fired steam train, and a museum devoted solely to the legacy and legends of Southern gospel music?  It’s all at Dollywood, home of the Smoky Mountain family adventure, where wonder lives for kids of all ages through rides and attractions in a setting that captures and celebrates the traditions of the mountains and creates memories worth repeating®.

First Wing Coaster in the U.S. Soars at Dollywood

Dollywood makes history in 2012 with the opening of the new $20 million Wild Eagle coaster, the first wing coaster in the U.S. One of the coaster’s many claims to fame is its unique cantilevered seat design which allows passengers to ride on either side of the coaster’s track versus above it as on a traditional coaster. Riding on either side of the track allows passengers to experience the thrilling sensation of flight since there is nothing above their heads and nothing below their feet. Wild Eagle is designed by Switzerland-based Bolliger & Mabillard, builders of 11 of the 20 highest-ranking steel coasters in the world. Wild Eagle features a one-of-a-kind design which pays tribute to the majestic raptor that soars in the skies above the Great Smoky Mountains. The coaster’s custom handmade passenger trains, designed to carry 28 riders each, feature an imposing bald eagle with piercing eyes and broad wings outstretched for flight along the 3,127-foot track.     

Chasing Rainbows Brings Wonders of Adventures in Imagination to Life

To share the results of her decades of dreaming, and to inspire others to follow their own dreams, Dolly introduced Dollywood’s new Adventures in Imagination area in 2002.  The area includes a state-of-the-art museum called Chasing Rainbows, featuring interactive and behind-the-scenes collections, stories, and memorabilia from Dolly’s life and career.  Visitors see costumes from Dolly’s movie career including 9 to 5 and Straight Talk as well as many of her lavishly sequined gowns worn during her countless concerts, award shows and special appearances.  An entire case contains Dolly’s many awards, including Grammy, Country Music Association and People’s Choice Awards, as well as plaques commemorating gold and platinum records.  In addition, a touching display features the original handwritten lyrics to some of her biggest hits.     

American Heritage Takes Flight at Eagle Mountain Sanctuary

In July 1990, Dolly Parton announced the construction of a major eagle complex at Dollywood. The five-part complex includes Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a living showcase of American bald eagles; the Wings of America Theatre, featuring a birds of prey show; the neighboring Birds of Prey viewing facility added in 2008 which showcases raptors from the show; and an eagle breeding and rehabilitation facility which includes an eagle medical clinic and nursery that is not open to the public. Eagle Mountain Sanctuary and the Wings of America theatre have entertained and educated more than 30 million Dollywood visitors since its April 1991 debut.  As a matter of fact, one of the most often asked questions of Dollywood guests upon entering the park is “Where are the eagles?”

The Eagle Complex is a cooperative effort between Dollywood and the American Eagle Foundation (AEF), a non-profit organization with permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to possess, care for, exhibit, rehabilitate and breed birds of prey. Eagle Mountain Sanctuary showcases the country’s largest presentation of non-releasable bald eagles—more than a dozen birds—in a 1.5 million-cubic-foot natural outdoor aviary that recreates the birds’ natural habitat. The bald eagles are classified as non-releasable because of permanent disabling factors and other good and lawful reasons and therefore are unable to survive on their own in the wild. This unique showcase gives Dollywood visitors the rare opportunity to see these magnificent birds up close and learn more about the preservation efforts being conducted to help this now endangered species which has served as our country’s national symbol for more than 200 years.

Dollywood visitors also enjoy learning even more about the bald eagle and some of its feathered friends at the Wings of America show.  The show’s format is exciting, entertaining and educational, as the beauty and power of hawks, falcons, vultures, owls and eagles are demonstrated “up-close and personal.”  The audience learns some of the unique characteristics about the individual species of birds and has the opportunity to see several of the birds in “free flight,” adding to the show’s surprise and excitement.  Between shows, park guests can visit the Birds of Prey viewing facility located next to the theatre. Raptors presented in the show are housed in the facility which offers another up-close glimpse of these amazing birds along with storyboards which offer more detailed information about each bird of prey. 

Perhaps Dollywood and the AEF’s most important work is taking place several miles from the park at the Breeding and Rehabilitation Center. The AEF has released more than 90 eagles since the 1980s.  Since the spring of 1991, bald eaglets and golden eaglets have been hatched to parents that are permanent Dollywood residents.  A number of birds have been rehabilitated and returned to their natural habitats in the wild.

A Step Back In Time Brought Dollywood's Grist Mill to Life

More than 20 years ago, employees of Silver Dollar City (the park became Dollywood in 1986) began work on a special project.  Construction began on a working grist mill which would be built exactly as it would have been in the 1880s and the first fully operating grist mill built in Tennessee in more than 100 years. What does it mean to build a structure as it would have been 100 years ago? It meant that the roof shingles were split by hand, and all the door hardware was created onsite by the park’s blacksmiths. The structure’s round logs were hewed by hand in front of the building site with holes drilled in the logs by hand using different size augers. The architectural shingles on the side of the building and all lumber were milled at the park’s sawmill which was then located in Craftsman’s Valley.  The window panes were made by the park’s glassblowers, and each window frame was made onsite using steam engine power to operate the five-in-one machine which is now located in the Valley Carriage Works wagon shop.

All work on the grist mill was done by then Silver Dollar City employees during the park’s operating season so that park guests could observe the process.  It took six months to complete the mill, just in time for the annual fall crafts festival.  The Dollywood Grist Mill is a complete and fully operating mill where corn and wheat are ground into flour daily.  Both are available for purchase by park guests, along with a variety of other goodies including the popular cinnamon bread. 

History Is Right on Track with Dollywood Express

Steam trains played an important role in shaping our country’s economic, cultural and physical landscape, providing a vital connection between the isolated mountain valleys and the developing cities and towns located just beyond them.  Long before our interstate system linked cities across the U.S., both people and supplies traveled by railway.  The Dollywood Express lets park guests relive that bygone era when things moved at a slower pace.   

Two Baldwin coal-fired steam trains—Klondike Katie, No. 192, built in 1943, and Cinderella, No. 70, built in 1939—have interesting histories. They were originally built for the U.S. Army, and both engines were used in Alaska during World War II to transport troops and lumber.  Klondike Katie and Cinderella now work for the Dollywood Express where they take park guests—up to 550 people per excursion aboard its seven cars—on a scenic five-mile journey through the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains.

Museum Celebrates Southern Gospel Music’s Joyful Noise

The Southern Gospel Music Museum and Hall of Fame tells the story of a timeless genre of music, passed down from one generation to the next and steeped in the traditions of Sunday worship and all-night gospel singings.  Southern gospel music traces its roots back more than 100 years when hymns rang from the many tiny churches that dotted the landscape of the Southeastern U.S.  Soon, groups—often families—decided to share God’s word through gospel music.  By doing so, the Southern gospel music industry was born.  And, oh, how it has grown.            

The Vaughan Radio Quartet, the Stamps All-Star Quartet, the Speer Family, the LeFeveres, the Blackwood Brothers, the Chuck Wagon Gang, the Rangers, the Sunshine Boys, the Happy Goodmans, the Statesmen, the Harmoneers, the Florida Boys, the Oak Ridge Quartet, the Weatherfords and the Rebels all laid a firm foundation for those who would follow.  Today, such groups as the Gaither Vocal Band, the Martins, the Isaacs, and the McKameys still travel across the country and around the world sharing their musical ministries.

On April 17, 1999, Dollywood welcomed the Southern Gospel Music Hall of Fame and Museum.  The 4,000-sq.-ft. facility serves not only as the industry’s headquarters, but also as a tribute to all who contributed to Southern gospel music’s success.  More than 350 artifacts are displayed, representing more than 100 groups and individuals.  The Hall of Fame pays tribute to 80 members with new honorees inducted annually.   

It’s only fitting that the Southern Gospel Music Museum and Hall of Fame make its home at Dollywood.  The granddaughter of a Pentecostal preacher, Dolly first sang in church.  In 2010, Dolly received the Southern Gospel Music Association’s James D. Vaughan Impact Award. Gospel music has and always will hold a very special place in her heart. And, the Southern Gospel Music Museum and Hall of Fame has a very special place in her theme park, too. You can learn more about the Southern Gospel Music Museum and Hall of Fame by visiting www.sgma.org