PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. (WATE) – Dolly Parton and the leadership of Dollywood on Friday announced the single largest attraction investment in the history of the theme park — a brand-new roller coaster that will be its largest upon opening in the spring of 2023.
The $25 million Big Bear Mountain roller coaster, a six-acre attraction that will expand the Wildwood Grove section of the park, feature three different launches across 3,990 feet of track. The project also marks the latest step in the half-billion-dollar expansion announced in 2021.
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Big Bear Mountain will reach speeds up to 48 mph and a peak elevation of 66 feet as it winds through Wildwood Grove around waterfalls and, briefly, underground. It’s also the first Dollywood ride to feature on-board audio with music and narration from Wildwood Grove’s fictional caretaker Ned Oakley.
The ride lasts nearly two minutes, and seats 20 passengers per train.
“Last year we said we were going to be investing half a million dollars in the next ten years,” said Pete Owens, Dollywood’s vice president of marketing. “This is obviously part of that investment strategy and we’re investing all over the park, not just in Wildwood Grove. But this is phase two. So you’ll see another opportunity to expand in that area sometime during that timeline.”
The theme of the Big Bear Mountain coaster, as Parton explained, is that guests are on a search for a “hug bear that’s been roaming these hills for years.”
“The folks around Wildwood Grove said they’ve seen him,” Parton teased while wearing a park ranger outfit adorned with rhinestones.
Parton added that she’s excited about the new experience, but she probably won’t be riding the coaster herself.
“Doesn’t that look like fun?” she said, referring to a rendering of the ride. “You know I’m not going to get on that.”
“If I get on that thing you’d find my wigs on one of those trees,” she joked.
The Spring 2023 launch of the new ride coincides with the grand opening of Dollywood’s newest resort: the HeartSong Lodge.
According to a case study released last year by the Tennessee Department of Transportation, Dollywood has an annual economic impact of $1.8 billion a year and is credited with more than 23,000 jobs for the region.