Over the past few weeks, as Home & Family took the show on the road, I visited Dollywood, the theme park that Dolly Parton developed. Surprisingly, the treasure that I took away from the trip is that we should all dream more.
Approximately 30 years ago, Dolly Parton made an announcement on TV that she was going to give back to her community by building a theme park. Everyone took it as a joke. The reality was that Dolly was serious. Her entire career was a combination of incredible talent, inspired by her roots – family, faith and the Great Smoky Mountains. Her songs like Tennessee Mountain Home captured the heart and soul of its people and contributed to her success – so she began to dream her theme park into existence.
She found an old, existing theme park near her home town of Sevierville, Tennessee, went into partnership with him and began to build. She found joint venture partners and sponsors who helped her. I think Dolly would call this “putting wings and feet and legs on your dreams.” Thirty years later, Dollywood is a prominent theme park, boasting some of the best roller coasters in the country according to roller coaster enthusiasts. By holding onto her vision as a way to give back to the community, she now employs approximately 4000 people and the entire region has benefited financially as outside attractions pop up in the surrounding areas.
There is a great deal of visual dreaming apparent when you see Dollywood. It’s as if Dolly sings from her soul and imbues it upon all that she touches. First, she didn’t build a theme park on a parking lot. Instead, she preserved the natural topography, including a brook that runs through the park. Ducks are part of the ecosystem – and in the evening as the park is closing, they emerge from their watery nooks to sleep on the walkways throughout the park. The mountains are an exquisite backdrop to the amusement space.
She must have thought fondly of the people who lived in poverty stricken Appalachia as she grew up. Dolly’s songs and music emerged from this humble background. She uses what she appreciated to build her businesses. She plays the mountain instruments, like guitar, dulcimer, and autoharp. She sings their stories. She brings their history to the public eye with theatrical presentations, displays and museums throughout the park. The blacksmiths, potters, candle makers and glass blowers that populate Craftsman’s Valley in the park now are reminiscent of those times and she has kept the artisans at work for the past 30 years.
Of course, food plays a big role at the park where traditional Southern cooking dominates – from taffy to cinnamon bread, turkey legs to fried chicken sandwiches and, of course, the story of stone soup. The classic “Stone Soup” is retold as an example of how Dolly’s mom provided special attention to her children through their contributions to the stone soup in hard times.
Even faith gets its due within the park with the presence of an old chapel, moved onto the property. This chapel has a real chaplain, a member of a resort chaplains association, and provides regular Sunday services to all who wish to attend. Peter and I spent a few moments taking in the classic old church as we celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary at the park.
As Ms. Parton said on our TV show, “one dream leads to another.” Her dream of a theme park led to one of a resort hotel where people could stay when they came to visit Dollywood. She must have dreamed of its grand entry and magnificent picture window that opens upon all the outdoor pool facilities.
Dolly calls it their “watering hole,” just like the ones she knew as a child. From the staircase leading down to it, you are high above it all and view the mountains rolling away into the distance. Rocking chairs are an ever present reminder of times spent out on porches at night. In her desire to make the hotel family friendly, she even provides bunk beds in the rooms next to the main beds, as well as refrigerators and microwaves (on request). There is a camp for kids near the indoor pool. Even the lounge echoes its Appalachian origins in the moonshine mason jars collage behind the bar.
Ms. Parton believes in the power of dreams and actively educates people to dream more. Obviously, the name Dreammore Resort echoes her feelings, as well as her favorite inspirational sayings hung in all the corridors of the hotel, the dream box on display in the lower lobby, and the multitude of butterflies woven into the carpeting and other places. When she speaks, you hear the message loud and clear. “Love one another more. Dream more, care more, do more and be more.”
On yet a deeper level, Dolly Parton carries her history and her vision into the contributions she makes to the community. Her father could not read or write, inspiring her to create a literacy project called Imagination Library, in which every child in the area receives a book when they are born and every month thereafter until they go to school. The program has grown to include the entire State of Tennessee and beyond. Dreaming comes from imagining and books can help us imagine.
Dolly has also worked with the American Eagle Foundation for 27 years. To her, saving our national symbol from extinction was a way to honor and appreciate the wildlife in her roots. Today, visitors to the park can see injured bald eagles recuperating on the slopes above them, contribute to the breeding and preservation of the species, and get to see the beauty of an eagle in flight as we did when the eagle Challenger flew overhead during our stage show. It is an incredibly moving experience.
Dolly Parton has mastered the ability to manifest her dreams as she incorporates her roots and her values into her music, businesses and philanthropy. She might say it more simply. Standing on stage, she seems so genuine – raised in faith, building upon her roots and making a difference in the lives of others. She is truly an inspiration and a reminder that we should all dream more. As Dolly puts it, a dream is a wish plus work – and you can make that happen.
All of this came about because Dolly Parton had a dream. The best thing I can ask for you today is that you dream more and learn to do the tasks that lead you to their expression.
To Your Success,