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Sevier County

Dolly Parton, The Smokies and So Much More
Story by Bill Farley. Photos by Judith Royce

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Sevier County loves native daughter Dolly Parton

The first thing a visitor has to learn about Sevierville, Tennessee is that the name of the town is pronounced “Severe-ville.” The second thing is that despite its name, it’s not at all “severe.” Named for frontiersman, Revolutionary War fighter and Tennessee’s first governor, John Sevier, the city and its surrounding communities in Sevier County is a little bit Branson, a little bit Myrtle Beach and a whole lot of Smoky Mountain hospitality and charm.



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Seasonal harvest décor at Dollywood

With a seemingly endless supply of attractions for the young and the young at heart –arcades, miniature golf, live shows, go kart tracks, non-chain restaurants, affordable accommodations and flashy “brand name” entertainment destinations - the region is within a day’s drive from the Lowcountry and is a great get-away for parents of young children or grandparents wanting to spend some fun quality time with their grandkids.

Other than the city and county’s legendary founder, the biggest name by far throughout the region is that of country music icon, entrepreneur and philanthropist Dolly Parton. One of twelve siblings born and raised in nearby Locust Ridge, Parton began her meteoric music career on a radio station in Sevierville before she was ten years old. She never forgot her mountain roots and to this day remains a major force for good throughout the county and beyond.

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Ride behind a genuine steam engine at Dollywood

Her business enterprises – Dollywood/Dollywood’s Splash Country and the Dixie Stampede – are high profile centerpieces for the region, attracting some 5 million guests between them annually and are major employers as well as huge tourist draws. Her Dollywood Foundation benefits a host of area charities, and her Imagination Library, which began providing books to every child in Sevier County in 1996, has expanded to many U.S. states as well as parts of the U.K. and Canada. Dolly Parton Parkway is a major artery in Sevierville and her statue adorns the lawn of the county court house.

Dollywood itself, which opened in 1986, is a family-oriented theme park where it’s easy to spend an entire day without becoming bored. Interestingly, although named for Parton, Dollywood is not an homage to the singer and her illustrious career. In fact, there’s little evidence that other than lending her name to the enterprise, Dolly has any ego tied up in it at all! As the locals put it, “It’s Dollywood…not Graceland.” For patrons who bring their dogs on vacation, however, there’s a “Doggywood” on site where the pooches can be parked until their owners have had their fill of the fun.

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Craftsmen and artisans abound at Dollywood

The 150 acre park, with its adjacent Splash Country water sports facility, boasts numerous exciting but not “kid terrifying” rides, plus demonstrations by master artisans of traditional mountain arts and crafts, live shows, concerts, dining, shopping, a year-round series of special events such as the Festival of Nations and A Smoky Mountain Christmas, and a working steam engine that takes visitors on a entertaining and informative ride through the park and the nearby countryside.

Take a break and have lunch at Miss Lillian’s Chicken Restaurant where the eponymous Miss Lillian will serenade you with her banjo and possibly incorporate you into her act. And, don’t miss the Great American Country show at the Pines Theater, where a top country artist joins the great local cast each week for a top notch musical experience.

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It’s North vs. South at Dixie Stampede

Sister attraction the Dixie Stampede is dinner theater fun with more than one twist.   The 1000 seat arena is divided into North and South and guests are encouraged to hoot and holler to support their side in a mock War Between the States. It’s all in good fun, but there’s no mistaking the talent and precision necessary to carry off some of the amazing feats of horseback riding on display or to appreciate the indoor “stampede” by a herd of Texas Longhorns.

There are pig and ostrich races, hilarious audience participation competitions, and a dinner that is both delicious and very different. Standard fare includes a whole rotisserie chicken, a hearty slice of pork loin, vegetable soup, biscuit, potato wedges, apple pastry and a beverage served in a Mason jar. Without any utensils. Part of the fun is getting greasy using only your hands. But, no worries. At the end of the show the upbeat, attentive wait staff is quick to provide heated wet napkins to clean up from the feast.

Elsewhere in Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and neighboring towns, there are many and varied recreational opportunities. Premier among these is the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, America’s most visited national park and the only one without an admission fee. Preparing to celebrate its 75th anniversary in 2009, the park is something not to be missed.

Located on the Tennessee/North Carolina border just past scenic Gatlinburg, Great Smoky Mountains National Park is a national treasure whose hills and valleys are home to over 10,000 documented species of plants, animals and invertebrates. No other area of equal size in the temperate zone can match this diversity. There are plenty of bears in the park, but if you see one, don’t feed it! You could be liable for a $5000 fine and/or spend six months in jail.  In fact, while enjoying the natural beauties of the park or taking a hike on a portion of the Appalachian Trail is encouraged, visitors are not permitted to disturb or remove anything, not even a rock.

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Remains of a moonshine still deep in Forbidden Caverns

Another natural attraction is Forbidden Caverns, where a guided tour takes visitors deep below the surface of the earth into caves and grottoes carved out by water over the millennia. This spectacular experience features a close-up look at the largest known wall of rare cave onyx, natural chimneys, clear underground streams, stalactites and stalagmites and a surprise – the remains of one of many illegal moonshine stills that operated there, far from the prying eyes of the “revenooers,” until the 1940s.

Of course, a great way to enjoy an overview of the entire region is from the air, and Scenic Helicopter Tours is ready to oblige, with nine different tours available from as low as $10 a person. Headsets with voice-activated microphone allow passengers and pilot to communicate so any questions about what you are seeing are easily answered.

Want a more “personal” aerial view of the Smokies? Step into a harness and test your mettle at the Wahoo Zipline. Five single and one dual cable run will whisk you through the trees at 40 mph and up to 200 feet above the earth. It’s an exhilarating adventure that’s not as daunting as it might seem.

Back on terra firma, there’s plenty more to do. Rainforest Adventures presents more than 600 wild animals in natural setting, including snakes, exotic birds, kangaroos, emus, sheep, goats and parakeets. NASCAR Speed Park offers eight track driving experiences from the mild to the challenging 5/8 scale NEXTEL Cup class cars, plus rides, arcade games, a climbing wall, a miniature golf course and an official NASCAR store.

If shopping is more your speed, you’ll feel right at home in Sevierville’s Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall. While you browse for bargains, the young ‘uns can spend a few hours at nearby Ripley’s Old MacDonald’s Farm Miniature Golf, with its three courses of varying difficulty, audioanimatronic “animals” that comment on their game, and an extensive indoor arcade.

In addition to good buys, you won’t want to say “good-bye” to the Smokies without taking the opportunity to bring a taste of them home with you in the form of a fine art rendering by local artist Robert A Tino. His gallery is located in a farmhouse that features many pieces of work by noted carpenter, cabinetmaker and house builder Lewis C. Buckner, a former slave who achieved fame as a master craftsman and artisan. Tino, who began painting at age 12 and never had formal art training, interprets the landscapes of the region with realism tinged with impressionism. Worked in all media but specializing in watercolor and gouache, Tino’s vibrant works capture the Smokies from sweeping panoramas to often whimsical portraits of bears.

If an evening is free, two shows to consider are Cirque de Chine and Country Tonight.   The Cirque is a traditional extravaganza of Chinese artistry, presenting such acts as the Pagoda of Bowls, the delicate and dangerous Chair Stack, Chinese Yo-Yos, contortionists, an incredible 12 women aboard a single bicycle and a heart-stopping Guinnesss Book of World Records finale in which five men on motorcycles roar around a spherical mesh “cage of death” concluding in total darkness except for the bikes’ headlights. Country Tonite is a fun-filled award winning romp through the world of country music. Combining classic and contemporary performances with gospel and patriotic selections and “Hee Haw” style comedy routines, Country Tonight is fast-paced fun for all ages.

A hallmark of the Sevierville region is affordability. There are scores of accommodations within reach of any budget, one of the newest and most interesting being Wilderness at the Smokies Resort, a 234 room hotel with all the amenities plus its own 40,000 square foot outdoor water sports park. Already a landmark, Wilderness at the Smokies is in the process of adding a 200 unit condominium complex, a second championship golf course, a dining and entertainment complex and a 60,000 square foot indoor water sports park.

If all the activities available in Sevier County leave you both exhausted and ready for a good meal, rest assured that your options are many. Just a few would include: The Applewood Farmhouse Grill (There is a story about that coming in the Spring issue); The Chop House, featuring premium, heavily aged, uniquely seasoned steaks and chops and sister restaurant Connor’s, offering flavorful American fare in a casual setting; Damon’s Grill, for first-rate ribs and more;  The Pottery House Restaurant, a fine dining establishment that’s part of a working pottery factory and store – they take pride not only in making their own bread but making the plates it’s served on; The Diner, a 50’s style eatery where burgers and malts lead the menu items and where no one would be surprised if Fonzi walked in the front door, and Flapjacks…well, the name says it all.

Just don’t forget that when you arrive in Sevierville, you don’t give your destination any fancy-dan “Frenchified” pronunciation. It’s “Severe-ville” plain and simple. But not severe at all.

Bill Farley
Night Writer Editorial Services
3247 Heathland Way
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29466

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.


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