The Whistle Punk Chaser, a new roller coaster for kids at Dollywood, will be built in the Timber Canyon part of the park next to the Thunderhead wooden coaster. Construction seen Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017.(Photo: Brianna Paciorka, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel)
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Workers at Dollywood are busy with about 250 construction, renovation and remodeling projects while the theme park is closed from January through part of March.
The park escaped damage from the Gatlinburg fires in November and resumed operations of its Smoky Mountain Christmas celebration a few days after the fires were extinguished.
Projects at the Pigeon Forge, Tenn., theme park range from new rides, including construction of the 200-foot free-fall ride, the Drop Line, and kid roller coaster, Whistle Punk Chaser, to remodeling restaurants and other buildings in the park.
The Drop Line and Whistle Punk Chaser will be located in the park's Timber Canyon and are scheduled to be completed in the summer. Dollywood opens for the spring March 18, and many of the renovation and remodeling projects will be completed by then.
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“This is an unusual winter, where it’s numerous smaller projects, and it is a challenge for us with our management team to implement this, so it’s basically divide and conquer between different departments here to get the work done in eight weeks," said Brian Dudash, Dollywood vice-president of maintenance and construction.
The park's former Backstage Restaurant, which had decor from movies, is being remodeled and transformed into the Front Porch Cafe and will focus on a mountain theme. The building will receive new flooring, paint, signs and murals on the wall.
"This one will have a brand new story when it opens. It's all about being on your neighbor's front porch in the mountains because it's very mountain based and spring-like ... a lot of mountain music, a lot of mountain food. (There's) a great new menu we're going to have here. It's very fresh," said Evan Schukman, Dollywood's director of facilities.
The former Backstage Restaurant at Dollywood is being rebranded into the Front Porch Cafe as seen Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017. (Photo: Brianna Paciorka, Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel)
The Rainbow Blown Glass shop, which was built in the 1980s, also is getting a new look and upgrading its glass blowing equipment. Its name will change to the Mountain Blown Glass shop.
“You’ll see a major expansion to glass blowing that is providing us an opportunity to be able to (give a) better experience for families who want to create their own ornaments," said Pete Owens, Dollywood's director of media and public relations. "We’ve done that experience for a number of years, but you had to go through a gate and get up on the stage, and it was difficult for families with children to ... be able to do that.”
The retail area where attendees can purchase glass works is being remodeled, too, with some fresh paint and new cabinets.
Dollywood employees and outside contractors are completing the work. Other major projects include the widening and straightening of the pathway that leads to the park's Timber Canyon area and some renovations in the Lumber Jack Pizza restaurant.
“Timber Canyon walkway is probably one of the narrowest parts ... we had in the park, and as our attendance grows, (our) annual, our daily attendance grows, we saw that we had a need to provide better circulation through the park, so we’re making an improvement to widen this sidewalk. We’re adding some additional props and dressings through the area,” Dudash said.
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Owens said that Dollywood surveys its guests often and tries to make improvements based on the feedback that is received.
“One of those things that comes up most is line speed," Owens said. "They’d like to have us expedite that. All of us are in more of a hurry as a society, and we’re trying to help facilitate … larger door openings, larger pathways and (the) opportunity to be able to get people to and from where they want to go.”
Dollywood's Splash Country also is receiving a major addition. Work began in October on the new TailSpin Racer water slide, said Mike Brown, Dollywood Splash Country general manager. Currently, elevation markers and concrete piers and footers have been placed where the slide will be.
The slide, which has lanes to race other attendees and stretches longer than a football field, will be ready by the time Splash Country opens May 13.
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The total cost of Dollywood's projects is about $8.5 million to $9 million, Owens said. The total cost of Splash Country's projects is about $2.5 million, and Owens said that these funds come from Dolly Parton's $300 million investment in Dollywood which was announced in 2013.
“You know we’re doing a lot of other improvements this winter, and we’re really trying to focus on guest comfort, guest satisfaction. You see a lot of air conditioning units laying on the ground. We’re replacing a lot of heat and air units, roofing that’s being replaced. So it’s a lot stuff the guests won’t even see, but they’ll at least experience it and understand it,” Dudash said.
Contributing: Arthur Levine, Special for USA TODAY. Follow Maggie Jones on Twitter: @AvengerMags