(WBIR - Pigeon Forge) The more things change at Dollywood, the more they stay the same.
Things have changed a lot since 1986 when the theme park became the namesake of Dolly Parton. One thing that remains the same is Tim Berry showing up to work in Pigeon Forge.
"This is my 30th year with Dollywood. My first year was 1986, it was the first year it opened as Dollywood," said Berry. "You know, it started as a summer job for me. I was just a high school kid who needed some gas money and pay my car insurance. One of my first jobs was doing cider-making demonstrations. I was Johnny Appleseed Jr. and had the little pot on my head wearing knickers and crushing apples."
Berry worked in food services, rides, and also the iconic coal-powered steam train. WBIR archive footage from 1989 shows Berry alongside the tracks in uniform. Around that time, Dollywood went from being a summer job to a legitimate career track when he was studying business at the University of Tennessee.
"One of my supervisors came to a business class and spoke to us. That's when it just hit me, I had this epiphany, you can actually make a career of the theme park industry."
In 30 seasons, the kid who played Johnny Appleseed Jr. grew into the current vice president of human resources for all of Dollywood. In that time, Berry has seen the park and the number of employees triple.
"With 3,000 employees at Dollywood, it's hard to know all of them. But I do know quite a few hundred of them on a first-name basis," said Berry. "When you look around at how the park has changed physically with all of the rides, the shows, the theaters, it's overwhelming."
Berry says what is equally impressive are the attractions and qualities that have not changed.
"You know, the first year I started, the new attraction was The River Rampage, which is the whitewater raft ride. And even after 30 years, it's still one of the guests' favorite rides because parents and kids can ride it together. And they like to sit in a circle and watch each other get soaked and have a good time," said Berry.
Berry admits the job was not always easy, especially when dressed in costume and banking beneath the summer sun while trying to please thousands of guests.
"It can be challenging and the pace is fast and the pace is quick, but when you can put a smile on a family's face and make that emotional connection with them, you've helped someone's vacation be fantastic. That makes the heat and the chaos go away," said Berry.
Gratified guests and a family atmosphere among coworkers keep Berry coming back.
"It's definitely the friendliness of the employees. That's been the one consistent thread that's run through the 30 years that I've noticed," said Berry. "And quite frankly, it's the reason I've stayed 30 years is that family culture that I fell in love with and have continued to be in love with."