Dollywood Facebook Page
Dollywood Facebook Page

12 Fun Facts About Dollywood

Dollywood Facebook Page
Dollywood Facebook Page

I spent last weekend running around Dollywood, the amusement park created by country singer Dolly Parton. In addition to having a ton of fun, I learned a ton when I was there—not just about Parton, but about the area, too. Here's a sampling.

1. Dollywood is in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, which was named for an iron forge owned by Isaac Love in the 1820s. The forge, in turn, was named for the Little Pigeon River, which got its name from the flocks of passenger pigeons that used to live in the area (the birds are now extinct).

2. The park wasn't always Dollywood. It originally opened in 1961 as a small tourist attraction called Rebel Railroad. In 1970, it was purchased by Art Modell—then owner of the NFL's Cleveland Browns—and renamed Goldrush Junction. Herschend Enterprises bought the park in 1976, and renamed it Silver Dollar City. Ten years later, when Parton came on board, the park was dubbed Dollywood. (You can see the first visitor's guide at the Dollywood Facebook page.) "I always thought that if I made it big or got successful at what I had started out to do, that I wanted to come back to my part of the country and do something great, something that would bring a lot of jobs into this area," she said when Dollywood celebrated its 25th operating season in 2010. The park is the #1 employer in Sevier County

3. The park is located on 150 acres near Great Smoky Mountains National Park, and is themed around the history of the Smokys, life there, and preservation of the mountains. There's even a "multi-sensory musical experience" dedicated to the area, called Heartsong.

4. On some of the days soon after its May 1986 opening, traffic to get into Dollywood stretched for six miles down U.S. 441. The park had its one millionth visitor just five months after opening; during the first season, it had 1.34 million visitors. (These days, Dollywood has 2.5 million visitors annually.)

5. Dolly grew up in Sevierville, Tennessee, the fourth of 12 siblings. "We had two rooms, a path, and running water, if you were willing to run to get it," she once said. There's a replica of the two-room cabin at Dollywood, filled with many authentic items from her old home. The cabin was built by Parton's brother, and her mother helped recreate the interior. The original cabin still stands.

6. There's a museum called Chasing Rainbows, devoted to Dolly's life, in the park; it features replicas of the room where she went to school, items from her childhood, costumes from her movies and performances, the numerous awards she's won, and walls upon walls of photos of the entertainer with actors, musicians, and presidents—many of them signed. (Former Home Improvement star Jonathan Taylor Thomas wrote on his photo with Dolly, "It was an honor meeting you. You are so very special! Love, Jonathan.")

7. In 1973, a chapel was built in the park and named for Sevier County doctor Robert F. Thomas—the very same doctor who delivered Dolly. (Parton's father, a tobacco farmer, paid Thomas with a bag of oatmeal.)

8. Dollywood has a total of 27 rides. Seven of them are rollercoasters and four of them are water rides. Unfortunately, Dolly can't go on many of them—she suffers from motion sickness! "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,'" Parton once said. "I am the same way. I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

9. You can't bring your pups into Dollywood (unless they're service animals), but you can leave them at Doggywood

10. Dollywood hosts a number of festivals, including one devoted to BBQ and bluegrass, Great American Summer, National Southern Gospel & Harvest Celebration, the Festival of Nations, and Smoky Mountain Christmas. During last year's Smoky Mountain Christmas, the park put on Dollywood's A Christmas Carol, which featured a hologram of Parton as the Ghost of Christmas Past. “When they told me they were going to make a hologram out of me, I thought they were crazy,” Parton said. “But when I saw how real it looked on stage, I couldn’t believe it. I’m not sure this world can handle two Dolly Partons, but I’m excited folks will be able to see ‘the other Dolly’ reminding families that it’s not what you have but who you have, just like ole Scrooge figures out in the end.”

11. Though it was built fairly recently (in the early 1980s), the park's grist mill operates just as one would have in the 1880s—and it was constructed that way, too. According to the Dollywood website, "The roof shingles were split by hand, and all the door hardware was created onsite by the park’s blacksmiths. The structure’s round logs were hewed by hand in front of the building site with holes drilled in the logs by hand using different size augers. The architectural shingles on the side of the building and all lumber were milled at the park’s sawmill ... The window panes were made by the park’s glassblowers, and each window frame was made onsite using steam engine power to operate the five-in-one machine which is now located in the Valley Carriage Works wagon shop." Construction took six months; these days, the mill grinds corn and wheat into flour every day.

12. Dollywood has a number of bald eagles—deemed "non-releasable" because they wouldn't be able to survive in the wild on their own—and a few other birds, including an owl and a raven that has toys in its enclosure. (They're smart!).

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These Sparrows Have Been Singing the Same Songs for 1500 Years
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iStock

Swamp sparrows are creatures of habit—so much so that they’ve been chirping out the same few tunes for more than 1500 years, Science magazine reports.

These findings, published in the journal Nature Communications, resulted from an analysis of the songs of 615 adult male swamp sparrows found in six different areas of the northeastern U.S. Researchers learned that young swamp sparrows pick up these songs from the adults around them and are able to mimic the notes with astounding accuracy.

Here’s what one of their songs sounds like:

“We were able to show that swamp sparrows very rarely make mistakes when they learn their songs, and they don't just learn songs at random; they pick up commoner songs rather than rarer songs,” Robert Lachlan, a biologist at London’s Queen Mary University and the study’s lead author, tells National Geographic.

Put differently, the birds don’t mimic every song their elders crank out. Instead, they memorize the ones they hear most often, and scientists say this form of “conformist bias” was previously thought to be a uniquely human behavior.

Using acoustic analysis software, researchers broke down each individual note of the sparrows’ songs—160 different syllables in total—and discovered that only 2 percent of sparrows deviated from the norm. They then used a statistical method to determine how the songs would have evolved over time. With recordings from 2009 and the 1970s, they were able to estimate that the oldest swamp sparrow songs date back 1537 years on average.

The swamp sparrow’s dedication to accuracy sets the species apart from other songbirds, according to researchers. “Among songbirds, it is clear that some species of birds learn precisely, such as swamp sparrows, while others rarely learn all parts of a demonstrator’s song precisely,” they write.

According to the Audubon Guide to North American Birds, swamp sparrows are similar to other sparrows, like the Lincoln’s sparrow, song sparrow, and chipping sparrow. They’re frequently found in marshes throughout the Northeast and Midwest, as well as much of Canada. They’re known for their piercing call notes and may respond to birders who make loud squeaking sounds in their habitat.

[h/t Science magazine]

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18 Smart Products To Help You Kick Off Summer
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Whether you’re trying to spiff up your backyard barbeque or cultivate your green thumb, these summertime gadgets will help you celebrate the season from solstice to the dog days.

1. ROSÉ WINE GLASSES; $60

Rosé Wine Glass
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Wine not? When the temperature rises and beer isn’t your thing, reach for the rosé. Riedel’s machine-blown SST (see, smell, taste) wine glasses will give the sparkly stuff ample room to breathe, making every refreshing sip worthwhile.

Find It: Amazon

2. NERF N-STRIKE ELITE SURGEFIRE; $25

Nerf SurgeFire
Hasbro

Why It’s Cool: The N-Strike Elite SurgeFire (say that five-times-fast) sports a pump-action rotating drum for maximum foam-based firepower and holds up to 15 Nerf darts in its arsenal.

Find It: Hasbro Toy Shop

3. BUSHEL & BERRY PLANTS; $34

plant
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: You don’t need to have a green thumb to create a brag-worthy garden this summer. Besides producing snackable mid-season berries, these open-growing bushes can be planted immediately for easy set-up to make you look like a botanical pro.

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4. INFLATABLE DONUT; $17

Doughnut float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When the only dunking you’re doing is taking a dip in the pool, a 48-inch inflatable donut is the perfect way to stay afloat.

Find It: Amazon

5. STAR SPANGLED SPATULA; $21

American flag spatula
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: O say can you see by your grill’s charcoal light / Meats so proudly we cooked ... with a star spangled spatula. Depending on the specific model, these all-American grilling tools (designed in New Jersey and made in Chicago) are made of a combination of walnut and stainless steel or nylon. As an added bonus: 5 percent of the proceeds go to the Penn Abramson Cancer Center.

Find It: Amazon

6. MLB HOT DOG BRANDERS; $8 AND UP

MLB San Diego Padres Hot Dog BBQ Brander
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Take your hot dogs, sausages, brats, and more out to the ballgame without ever leaving your grill. These branders from Pangea Brands are dishwasher-safe and made of ceramic-coated cast iron.

Find It: Amazon

7. UNA GRILL; $139

grill
MoMA Shop

Why It’s Cool: This portable charcoal-heated grill is as efficient as it is stylish. The compact size lets you cook at the park, after hitting up MoMA, or anywhere in between.

Find It: MoMa Shop

8. HAMBURGER GRILLING BASKET; $21


Why It’s Cool: Made of steel and finished with a non-stick coating, this grilling tool flips four burgers at once and maintains perfect burger proportions to guarantee nobody stays hungry for long.

Find It: Amazon

9. COPPER FIRE PIT; $121

metal fire pit
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: The grill isn’t the only place for a roaring fire this summer. This 100 percent solid copper fire pit makes for the perfect gathering spot at your next BBQ, or just to warm up after a cool summer evening.

Find It: Amazon

10. BENDY STRAW POOL NOODLE FLOAT; $10

Bendy Straw Inflatable Pool Float
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Inflatable pool floats shouldn’t be boring, and this bendy straw float definitely does not suck. This unique spin on traditional pool noodles is sure to make for some cheesy jokes, but at least you’ll be comfortable floating in the pool or at the beach.

Find It: Amazon

11. GRIDDLER DELUXE; $111

Cuisinart GR-150 Griddler Deluxe
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: If you’re looking for some serious panini power, this griddler offers up a versatile lineup of six cooking options in one. And with dual-zone functions you can sling burgers while searing filets and sautéeing vegetables all at the same time.

Find It: Amazon

12. VINTAGE SNOW CONE MAKER; $30

Vintage Snow Cone Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: With its old-timey design, dual cone shelf, and endless flavor options, this snow cone maker is guaranteed create a cool treat.

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13. DACHSHUND CORN ON THE COB HOLDERS; $7

Dog Corn Holders
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: While meat-lovers will inevitably scarf down a lot of hot dogs this summer, vegetarians who happen to love another kind of dog will be smitten with these stainless steel, Dachshund-shaped corn on the cob prongs. They’re a fun spin on a summer grilling favorite.

Find It: Amazon

14. ICE CREAM SANDWICH MAKER; $16

Ice Cream Sandwich Maker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Four sandwiches are better than one, especially when they're of the ice cream variety. Make four ice cream sandwiches at once with this homemade spin on a classic cold treat.

Find It: Amazon

15. UE WONDERBOOM; $68

Bluetooth speaker
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Besides delicious food and great company, some memorable tunes are required for the quintessential barbeque. This portable bluetooth speaker offers up some booming sound in a small package, and with a battery power of 10 hours on a single charge you can keep the party going all night.

Find It: Amazon

16. ROLLORS GAME; $38

Rollors Backyard Game
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: When you’re sick of bocce, hate horseshoes, and you’re over cornhole, you might want to take up “rollors,” a family-friendly game that combines your favorite traditional backyard festivities into one game for people of all ages.

Find It: Amazon

17. HAMMOCK; $174

hammock
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Rest easy knowing that this 100 percent hand-woven and hand-dyed cotton hammock contributes to artisan job-creation in Thailand.

Find It: Amazon

18. VSSL SURVIVAL ESSENTIALS; $59

Emergency Survival Tent Outdoors
Amazon

Why It’s Cool: Compact, convenient, and durable, the VSSL Shelter can come in handy when things don’t go quite as planned. The device—which features a lightweight emergency shelter all within the handle of a compact, weather-resistant aluminum LED flashlight—is designed to keep you safe under the worst conditions.

Find It: Amazon

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