Dolly Parton, The Smokies and So Much More
Story by Bill Farley. Photos by Judith Royce
Sevier County loves native daughter Dolly
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, its not at all severe. Named for
frontiersman, Revolutionary War fighter and Tennessees 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.
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 days 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 countys 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.
|Ride behind a genuine steam engine at Dollywood
Her business enterprises
Dollywood/Dollywoods 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 its 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, theres 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,
not Graceland. For patrons who bring their dogs on
vacation, however, theres a Doggywood on site where the pooches can be
parked until their owners have had their fill of the fun.
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
Lillians Chicken Restaurant where the eponymous Miss Lillian will serenade you with
her banjo and possibly incorporate you into her act. And, dont 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.
Its 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. Its all in good fun,
but theres 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, Americas 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, dont 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
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. Its an exhilarating adventure
thats not as daunting as it might seem.
Back on terra firma, theres 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
If shopping is more your speed, youll feel
right at home in Seviervilles Tanger Five Oaks Outlet Mall. While you browse for
bargains, the young uns can spend a few hours at nearby Ripleys Old
MacDonalds Farm Miniature Golf, with its three courses of varying difficulty,
audioanimatronic animals that comment on their game, and an extensive indoor
In addition to good buys, you wont 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, Tinos
vibrant works capture the Smokies from sweeping panoramas to often whimsical portraits of
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 Connors, offering flavorful American
fare in a casual setting; Damons Grill, for first-rate ribs and more; The Pottery House Restaurant, a fine dining
establishment thats part of a working pottery factory and store they take
pride not only in making their own bread but making the plates its served on; The
Diner, a 50s 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
name says it all.
Just dont forget that when you arrive in
Sevierville, you dont give your destination any fancy-dan Frenchified
pronunciation. Its Severe-ville plain and simple. But not severe at all.
Night Writer Editorial Services
3247 Heathland Way
Mt. Pleasant, SC 29466
Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.