The East Tennessee icon shared the news on Thursday that The Dollywood Company will be adding HeartSong Lodge & Resort in 2023 and will invest more than half a billion dollars over the next 10 years across its Pigeon Forge properties.
Parton spoke with The Knoxville News Sentinel, part of the USA TODAY Network, in an exclusive interview before the announcement.
The 75-year-old Tennessee icon also explained that why, even after 36 years of dreaming, she's not slowing down.
"I have to keep working at it, and I'm excited about it. It keeps me alive; keeps me feeling young, whether I am or not. I don't pay attention to the numbers," Parton told Knox News in an exclusive interview. "I just say, 'What all can I do while I'm still around to make my life and other people's life more enjoyable?' "
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HeartSong is an 'attraction of its own'
HeartSong Lodge and Resort will pull in some of the most beautiful aspects of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Renderings of the five-story, 302-room resort reveal a rustic retreat with a range of accommodations and amenities.
Parton told Knox News the property's name is inspired by her "being big-hearted and singing my songs."
High ceilings, exposed beams and natural layered textures adorn the resort's outdoor-inspired atrium. Upstairs, guests will be invited to explore spacious family suites, bunk rooms, themed suites and loft rooms. Many of the resort's rooms will include balconies, providing a “place among the leaves” for visitors.
"It's going to be like the (DreamMore Resort and Spa) in that there'll be wonderful things outside to do, and it's almost like an attraction of its own," Parton said. The new lodge will be adjacent to DreamMore, which opened in 2015, allowing easy access to Dollywood and Dollywood's Splash Country.
At HeartSong, multi-generational families, couples and everyone in between will have opportunities for fun. The resort will house indoor and outdoor pools for all seasons, and the picturesque outdoor cove will include family gathering spaces, a communal fire pit and a screened-in porch.
With 26,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor meeting space, the resort can accommodate gatherings for several hundred guests at the two-story HeartSong Event Center, outdoor meeting spaces and event lawn.
"We just want to bring people in and want them to stay like a family destination," Parton said. "When they do come, they can stay as long as they want, have something to do all the time and have a beautiful, comfortable, safe place to stay."
Investing in more than Dollywood
Since 2010, The Dollywood Company has invested more than $220 million into its properties. Previous expansions included Dollywood’s DreamMore Resort and Spa, roller coasters Lightning Rod and FireChaser Express, the $37 million Dollywood addition called Wildwood Grove and TailSpin Racer at Dollywood’s Splash Country.
The 10-year investment is an extension of Parton's commitment to East Tennessee. Dollywood's properties create billions of dollars in economic activity across the region.
"I want to do something great for my home county, for my people, to leave something behind for the locals and provide jobs," Parton said. "Of course, it's nice to make the money. As a businesswoman, I think about how that part's nice, but what's nicer for me is to be able to share and to give things back and do important things."
Parton told Knox News that HeartSong is just the beginning of her big new plans for the Dollywood properties. She said the company intends to build additional resorts down the road and "possibly a campground."
"That's a lot of dough to spend, but you're going to need it with all the plans and all the dreams that we have going," Parton said.
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36 years of Dollywood, and the dreaming isn't over
The coronavirus pandemic put off the plans to announce the 10-year investment, but now is the right time to expand Dollywood's portfolio, Eugene Naughton, president of The Dollywood Company, said in a release.
“Despite the challenges of the pandemic, we had a relatively strong 2020 and we currently are outpacing our original expectations for 2021, so we are confident in the potential we see in the continued growth of the Smokies," Naughton said.
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Parton, also known as Dollywood's Dreamer-in-Chief, told Knox News she wanted to build a theme park since she started in the business, and 36 years later, she's still dreaming.
"I work all the time, so they say, 'Are you never going to retire?' I said, 'I can't. I've dreamed myself into a corner.' Now I have to be responsible for all these dreams that are coming true," Parton said.
The park is celebrating spring in the Smokies with the final weekend of the Flower & Food Festival through June 7. Summer Celebration, which will include a nightly drone light show and dance party, begins June 25 and ends July 31.
Thousands of pumpkins glow to life as part of the Harvest Festival on Sept. 24- Oct. 30, and Smoky Mountain Christmas from Nov. 6- Jan. 2 celebrates the spirit of the season with millions of lights, award-winning shows and festive food.
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This article originally appeared on Knoxville News Sentinel: Dollywood: Dolly Parton plans new HeartSong Lodge for Pigeon Forge, TN