PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — You know you have a big announcement when the governor steps on stage.
On Wednesday, that's what happened in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., when Dolly Parton announced spending $300 million over the next decade to significantly expand Dollywood and Dolly's Splash Country with what could have the potential of making Parton's properties a year-round resort.
"This is a very special day, because my dreams are just about ready to come true," Parton told a crowd of hundreds, gathered to hear what had been the deemed the biggest announcement in the history of Dollywood.
The park is slated to add as many as 2,500 jobs with its new FireChaser Express rollercoaster, opening in 2014, plus the 300-room DreamMore Resort, opening in 2015 on 100 acres sitting adjacent to Dollywood and Dolly's Splash Country.
Parton said the expansion will "make this area and Dollywood one of the biggest and most popular destinations in the whole country."
The DreamMore resort's amenities are slated to include spas, suites, swimming pools, a shuttle to the theme parks plus porches where families can gather and share stories, as Parton did when she was a child growing up at the foot of the Great Smoky Mountains.
Most famously, Parton left Sevier County, Tenn., and launched her internationally famous singing and acting career.
But, she still recalls home – on the front porch.
"That's where we dared to dream," Parton said, recalling how she stood on her porch, as a child, with a tin can on a tobacco stick "and performed for whomever who would listen to me."
The FireChaser Express rollercoaster uses the theme of extinguishing fires.
"It's a forwards-and-backwards-launched rollercoaster," Parton said. "My favorite part about this ride is that little-bitty kids can ride it, about 4 years old."
And, like the front porch of the future resort, this ride has been inspired by Parton's early life, she said.
"I think around here, in Sevier County, with the fire department and all that, we're always having fires up in the Smokies," Parton said. "So we always try to have something, you know, to draw from. So we just take an idea, and we just exaggerate it and turn it into something special."
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam praised Parton's business interests in the Great Smoky Mountains, saying, "When somebody announces a $300 million investment in your state, it's literally a big deal."
The governor said tourism – including Dollywood – ranks as one of Tennessee's top industries, employing thousands across the Volunteer State.
"But I don't want to portray Dollywood and Dolly as being something that just brings revenue in the state, because it's so much more," Haslam said. "Dolly has literally become the state's daughter who's known around the world."
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