UPDATE: Dolly Parton announced Friday, March 15 that Wildwood Grove will open on Friday, May 10. Watch the full announcement at the bottom of the story.
“Really, really exciting project for Dollywood and for Dolly because she’s about doing things in a big way and this is the biggest thing we’ve ever done,” said Pete Owens, vice president of marketing and public relations for Dollywood.
It’s the most expensive too. With a price tag of $37 million, Wildwood Grove is now less than two months away from opening.
“We’ve created probably 12 acres in the mountains and we’re only using about five and a half of it right now,” said construction manager Guy Wantize, who helped move 300,000 cubic yards of dirt just to create the space that will soon be Wildwood Grove.
“I’ve moved a lot of earth before but this is a pretty significant project,” said Wantize. “We probably have up to 100 employees running around the site on a daily basis in different locations. The challenges have been just the actual mass of the site.”
That couples with fighting mother nature ever since October, when heavy rains began moving in.
“Once again with it being a flat site we have a difficulty getting water off the site so we’ve been playing in mud for quite a while,” said Wantize.
“Last year was the wettest year on record and it’s pretty wet this year as well but we’re tracking toward a May 10 opening – about the time we thought we would when we started the project back in 2016,” Owens said. “There’s a lot to discover here, I think the thing most folks are gravitating toward is the wildwood tree. It’s the centerpiece of the land, it’s a little more than five stories tall and it’s covered in more than 600 of these internally illuminated butterflies.
Those 600 internally illuminated butterflies with join lighting along the outside of the tree to tell some of the Smoky Mountains most unique stories about Wildwood Grove, the animals who call it home, and how the season changes from fall to winter each year.
“The main character’s name is Rebecca, which is kind of a tip of the hat to Dolly is Dolly Rebecca – she did explore the Smokies with her siblings when she was a kid and this is certainly a stylized story that is kind of an homage to her,” said Owens. “So it’s not necessarily about Dolly it’s about any young child that goes and explores the smokies for the first time.”
In this particular case, Dollywood’s character, Rebecca, places her hands on the Wildwood Tree and hears music as she watches the land around her come to life.