Sevier County economy relies on success of Dollywood

Sevier County economy relies on success of Dollywood

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By WHITNEY HOLMES
6 News Anchor/Reporter

PIGEON FORGE (WATE) -- Dollywood is open for business this season and as usual, it's expected to give the Sevier County a boost.

Friday, the park held a sneak peak day for season pass holders and neither the rain nor the recession kept die hard fans away.

"Right now, we have about 1,800 employees that are working for the Dollywood Park and as the season ramps up, we will reach 2,000, or a little more," says Dollywood spokesman Pete Owens.

Dollywood is the largest employer in Sevier County. Since it opened in 1986, it has contributed more than half a billion dollars in payroll to employees.

Many of the employees are from Sevier County and surrounding counties. They're also retirees called "work campers" who travel around the country by RV to work.

Along with bringing lots of employment opportunities, the park also brings lots of visitors who are ready to spend money.

"Dollywood is the number one paid attraction in the state of Tennessee. The peak attendance was 2.5 million in 2007," Owens says.

In 2008, park attendance was down six percent, prompting cuts in pay and days of operations.

Park officials expect 2009 to be about the same or even better than last year.

"Our economic indication so far for this year is, things may be bouncing back. Season pass sales are up right now," Owens says.

Dolly Parton says she hopes her park's reputation as a good bargain will keep it rolling through the tough economic times.

She also hopes its two new stage shows will reel people in. One of the new shows, "Imagine" by Le Grande Cirque, features world-champion acrobats and is part of the park's Festival of Nations.

The other show, titled "Sha-Kon-O-Hey! Land of the Smokies" includes eight songs written by Parton.

Sha-Kon-O-Hey is the phonetic spelling of "Shaconage," which is a Cherokee word that means "land of the blue smoke."

Dolly says the park had plans for even more attractions, but the recession changed that.

"I'd just as soon not say what they were because we are going to be announcing them when we see how the economy is going to be," Parton said. "We always expand every year and we invested more in the entertainment this year."

The park opens to the general public on Saturday March 28 at 9:00 a.m.

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