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Dolly Parton shares an update on Dollywood’s new Wildwood Grove expansion on March 15, 2019.
Calvin Mattheis, calvin.mattheis@knoxnews.com

Dolly Parton came to Dollywood on Friday with plenty of news and park updates to share.

Parton talked about the park’s 2019 season — which officially starts Saturday — and also talked about Dollywood’s annual Festival of Nations, its new $37 million expansion Wildwood Grove and what’s going on in her career.

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Parton revealed Wildwood Grove’s opening dates: May 10 and 11. She will return to Pigeon Forge to unveil the new area in a few months.  

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Dolly Parton talks Wildwood Grove

News media members took a tour of Wildwood Grove’s construction site on Friday. The area’s 11-themed attractions are coming together on schedule.

Friday afternoon, construction workers spent time on the 453-meter Dragonflier roller coaster and worked on the wooden frames of the Wildwood Grove’s waiting areas. 

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Wildwood Grove’s other attractions include Till & Harvest restaurant, an indoor play area called Hidden Hollow, the 55-foot Wildwood Tree, Black Bear Trail, Sycamore Swing, Treetop Tower, Mad Mocking Bird, Frogs & Fireflies, Wildwood Creek and new costumed characters Flit and Flutter.

WILDWOOD GROVE: Take a tour of Dollywood’s new Wildwood Grove, set to open in May

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Construction continues on the Dragonflier roller coaster in Wildwood Grove at Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee on Friday, March 15, 2019. Dolly Parton was visiting the park to kick off the 2019 season and give updates on the Wildwood Grove expansion. (Photo: Calvin Mattheis/News Sentinel)

The area is Dollywood’s largest expansion and will provide much-needed room in the park, according to Parton.

“But when we did Wildwood Grove, we needed the extra space ’cause we’d often talk about how, especially on holidays when there’s so many people, sometimes there’d be 25,000 people in the park at the same time in a day,” said Parton.

“And … we just need extra room and so that whole area that’s six acres plus … gave us a lot of room to expand and to actually put wonderful things that can be enjoyed for kids and the parents to be entertained.” 

Dollywood’s Festival of Nations brings new experiences

Dollywood’s Festival of Nations brings several new features to the park, including entertainment and food offering. The festival kicks off with the park’s opening and will continue through June 2. 

New entertainment acts include South African percussion ensemble Drumstruck, Cuban fusion dance and music group Litz Alfonso Dance Cuba and De Temps Antan and Les Grands Hurleurs of Quebec.

Chef Pepin, a Cuban celebrity chef, has come to the park to provide new international dishes during the Festival of Nations’ Passport to Food. During the Festival of Nations, Dollywood will feature dishes from Trinidad, Canada, South Korea, Cuba, Ecuador and others countries.

Pepin will also host cooking demonstrations during the festival’s first weekend. Each weekend during the festival will have additional chefs providing cooking demonstrations at noon and 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays in the park’s Market Square area.

Parton said Festival of Nations allows Dollywood guests to see the cultures from different parts of the world and put a spotlight on them in East Tennessee.

“They’re just so talented, and we love reaching out as human beings,” she said. “You know, just humanity itself should really be trying harder to love one another and to reach out and be more accepting and loving, so this is a wonderful way to do it. Through music is a great way to connect.”

More Dollywood renovations, changes

Dollywood received additional changes while the park was closed that will debut during the 2019 season.

The Sweet Shop and Taste Traders have combined into the new Southern Pantry in the Sweet Shop location. The location received renovations, and items from Taste Traders can now be found there.

Taste Traders’ former location near the chapel is now occupied by a new jewelry store, Found Treasures.

A new craft vendor, Hands in Wax, lets guests make wax keepsakes and is across from Wild Eagle.

Dollywood’s food options received some changes, too. All of the park’s full service restaurants have chefs now, and their menus have changed a bit.

The chicken food truck in front of Pine’s Theater now serves gourmet macaroni and cheese dishes including mac ‘n’ cheese with pulled pork and veggies.

Dolly Parton gives updates on other attractions, career

While at Dollywood, Parton also talked about some of her other projects. Her Pirate’s Voyage Dinner Show in Pigeon Forge will open June 6.

She spoke on her Netflix series “Heartstrings,” which features eight movies based on her music, and said it will debut in October or November. Parton said they hope to premiere the series at the park.

She is also working on a Christmas musical with Netflix called “Christmas on the Square.” Parton wrote the music for it, and it’s set to debut this holiday season.

“This is a story about a small town in the middle of the country, and it’s about them trying to sell the hometown to like a Walmart type, so these people that have lived here all these years, it’s them trying to fight to save their hometown,” said Parton.

The upcoming “9 to 5” remake featuring Parton, Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin is going through the second rewrite of its script, according to Parton. 

Dollywood’s 2019 Season schedule

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