"Good morning everybody and welcome to Dollywood!"
With those words, Sevier County native Dolly Parton introduced her namesake park to East Tennessee and the world back in 1986. Thousands of people from across the country poured into Dollywood for the grand opening day. Even then, they told Channel 10 cameras there was one main reason why:
"I love Dolly."
"She's so hometown - she's one of us."
"We just enjoy her. We're glad she invested in Dollywood."
That investment included several years of planning followed by months of renovations - all aimed at transforming the park from Silver Dollar City to Dollywood.
Parton prided herself on overseeing plans personally and adding personal touches. She even called in her mother to recreate an in-park replica of the Parton family homestead-- the mountain cabin where Parton grew-up.
Parton's plans to preserve that mountain home feel continued. The 1986 opening seasoning introduced the Smoky Mountain Rampage, a recreation of a ride down white water rapids. The '90s brought Eagle Mountain Sanctuary. It's a safe habitat for non-releasable bald eagles, the largest of the its kind of the country and is the national headquarters for the American Eagle Foundation.
Flash forward to 2001 and Dolly's Splash Country. The multimillion dollar water park is next door to Dollywood and has rides, slides and pools designed transport visitors to rivers and lakes hidden in the Appalachians.
Now in 2013, Parton says the park's latest expansion plans will hold true to that same ongoing mountain-home theme. She also says all the projects and plans of now and decades past are actually part of the same dream that came to life way back on Dollywood's opening day. It's the day she said these words to opening day visitors:
"I've dreamed for many years to getting to come back - bringing something back - and you folks should know I'm as proud of you as you've always been of me! Thank-you Pigeon Forge and Sevierville and thank-you God!"