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Weekend edition May 12, 2023 | Shannon Smith

New rollercoaster is just the latest way Dollywood continues to innovate

As Dolly Parton keeps herself and her work new and exciting, she does the same for Dollywood.

If there’s one person who’s managed to keep herself relatable, relevant, and revered for generations, it’s Dolly Parton.

She’s fresh off hosting the Academy of Country Music Awards, she’s released the first single off her upcoming rock album, and she paid a visit to her theme park Dollywood to open its newest attraction, all in the span of two days. Because when Dolly says she’s going to do something, she sticks to it.

“We said we’re going to expand Wildwood Grove, and we really meant it,” Dolly said prior to the grand opening of Big Bear Mountain Friday.

As Dolly keeps herself and her work new and exciting, she does the same for Dollywood. In recent years, the park has expanded, added new attractions, shows, and safety features, and continues to win national and international awards in the theme park world. Big Bear Mountain is a testament to the innovation Dolly and Dollywood strive for.

The family-friendly roller coaster is not only the largest single-attraction investment in Dollywood history, but also the longest roller coaster in the park at nearly 4,000 linear feet.

“I remember going out on my own little nature adventures when I was a kid, so I’m happy to know our guests are going to be able to go out together looking for that Big Bear!” said Dolly. “I’ve been hearing stories about him and whether or not he really is out there, but there is one thing I know for sure. No matter if guests find him or not, they’re going to have a lot of very happy memories to take home with them when they leave.”

The entrance to Big Bear Mountain.

Big Bear Mountain marks the expansion of Dollywood’s popular Wildwood Grove. Big Bear Mountain’s massive structure hugs six acres of undulating topography which runs along the border of Wildwood Grove, with riders racing through the wilderness before soaring high above the forest on the search for the legendary bear. Featuring a top speed of 48 mph, Big Bear Mountain takes guests through three separate launches, multiple airtime hills, high-speed carousel turns, and tunnels, including a pass behind a waterfall.

“It’s fun for me, it’s like giving birth to a three-year project,” said Eugene Naughton, President of Dollywood Parks & Resorts. “Believe it or not we started this in 2020 and it’s hard work to pull off an attraction like this, certainly in the middle of a pandemic that’s a huge challenge. But to say that it’s open here is so fun.”

Big Bear Mountain also marks the first attraction at the park to feature onboard audio. The sound system provides auditory thrills to match the ride’s dynamic movements as guests come daringly close to finding the elusive Big Bear.

The highly-detailed coaster train cars resemble four-wheel-drive SUVs and feature working headlights and taillights. Each coaster train seats 20 guests. The ride also features three launches, which is rare for any roller coaster.

“It’s the biggest family coaster we’ve ever made,” said Har Kupers, CEO of Vekoma Rides, the company that built Big Bear Mountain. “We’ve got audio and lighting on the train, also the launch system is quite special. The biggest thing is you can do it with the whole family. We call it a ‘family thrill.'”

“Wildwood Grove has won the Golden Ticket award for Best Theme Park Kids’ Area ever since it was built in 2019,” said Naughton. “It has been well received by our guests, and we knew any attraction added when we expanded the area had to live up to that same high standard we set for ourselves. With the great work from our partners at Vekoma, I feel like we’ve really delivered a ride that is going to be something the whole family can enjoy together.

RELATED: Dollywood opens 2023 season with new roller coaster, themed celebration

Naughton said continued innovation is important to Dollywood’s growth.

“Without it, we’re not going to be able to achieve Dolly’s big dreams, and she is our Dreamer-in-Chief,” he said. “She and I talk so much about our future and about doing more for the town that we live in, so we’re always going to be pushing the envelope. We’re committed to making this the top family destination in the United States and with Dolly’s partnership, I believe we can do that.”

The Dreamer-in-Chief herself came to the park for the opening dressed as a bear and even sang a special song about finding Big Bear.

Earlier this year, Dolly unveiled plans for a state-of-the-art guest attraction that showcases her legendary life and career. The experience is planned for a 2024 opening in the area surrounding and including the former Chasing Rainbows museum.

Dollywood made facility upgrades throughout the park. They’ve increased accessibility with a new wheelchair ramp for the Dollywood Express train. There are also two new service dog relief areas behind the Village Carousel and by the Frogs & Fireflies in Wildwood Grove, adding the park’s total to four.

With the new Heartsong resort opening at Dollywood this fall, the Dreamer-in-Chief surely has more secret park improvements up her rhinestoned sleeves.

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