Sevier County's largest seasonal employer is gearing up to reopen this weekend.
Dollywood will open to season pass holders Friday and to the general public Saturday. It comes as the park prepares to debut three new attractions later in May.
"It has really been a busy off season. One of the busiest that I've seen over my 17 years at Dollywood," said communications director Pete Owens. He said crews have been working on more than 250 projects since closing in January, including some changes visitors will notice and many they may not.
"Some things as small as maybe painting for a placement of signs, to a total re-theming of restaurants," Owens said.
That is in addition to the installation of two new rides and a five-story water slide set to open in May.
Owens said 2016 was a record year for attendance and revenue at all of Dollywood's businesses despite some challenges. Wildfires burned 17 of the nearly 100 privately owned cabins the company manages as a part of their cabin rental program.
"Dollywood really ended 2016 on an upturn, despite the fires," he said.
The park is now in the process of building a dozen new cabins. The decision to rebuild the cabins that burned in the wildfires falls upon their individual owners.
"We were down in January and February, as were all of the cabins in Sevier County, but we are where we thought we would be for March,” said Owens.
As the park gears back up for the next tourist season, so are businesses throughout the county.
Howard Kingsbury, owner of The Diner in Sevierville, is now beefing up his restaurant’s staff for that influx of tourists.
“We’ll bump up by about 10 percent with servers, a cook, a dishwasher,” he said.
He said March is generally an unpredictable month for business, but as Dollywood opens so does the window of opportunity for thousands of more visitors from across the country.
“We’ll be twice as busy, at least, as it was in January and February,” Kingsbury said.
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