Dolly Parton, dressed in a sequined lilac pantsuit with black piping and matching butterfly wings, stood on an outdoor stage on a recent Friday morning. Behind her was a 52-foot sculpture of a “Wildwood Tree,” with 620 acrylic butterflies.
She was commemorating Wildwood Grove, a new six-acre addition to Dollywood, her theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Based on Ms. Parton’s childhood “daydreams and imaginations,” the $137 million expansion is intended for families, especially those with younger children. (Teenagers are welcomed, Ms. Parton said, “as long as you behave.” )
Ms. Parton spoke with The Times about the park’s expansion, why she prefers to travel by bus and how her hometown pride influenced her decision to open the park.
What are some changes you’ve noticed from the time you started traveling until now?
Gas prices. Diesel prices. I started in show business when I was very young. We traveled by bus and I remember loving, in the early days, stopping at all the truck stops along the way because of all the great restaurants, all the great food, all the little out-of-the-way places.
I used to take my family on trips and vacations. We would go all over the world. We’d stop in and have food, but we’d take a lot of our own food. You’d take your own good pillows and your little things, which I still do to this day. Even when I travel overseas, I take my pillows, I take a few snack foods and other things that you might not be able to get.
What are your favorite snacks to take?
Potted meat. Or weird things like Vienna sausage. That and a bottle of Tabasco: If I can’t eat whatever they’re cooking, I can always have that. But I think everybody takes little special things whether it’s special chips or special little treats like things in my freezer, cooked at home. Just thaw it out on the bus. I know how to live on the road. I know how to travel.
When you’re on the road, are you reading? Listening to music?
I do love to read and I write a lot. I really get a chance to rest, too, because I’m always so busy. But once I’m on that bus I can sleep. I sleep better on my bus than anywhere else. I’m a Gypsy at heart. I just love the rocking of those wheels and smell of diesel.
Do you fly a lot?
I fly when I have to. I don’t like to fly. But when I tour we make it part of the deal. I don’t like to spend tons of money, just flying here and there to say I’m flying private jets, because I’d much prefer my bus.
Do you have any good travel skin care tips?
I clean my face in the mornings. You never know if you’re going to wreck the bus, you never know if you’re going to be somewhere in a hotel and there’s going to be a fire. So I leave my makeup on at night and clean my face in the morning.
What do you think is the highlight of Wildwood Grove?
The whole area, but the tree is the centerpiece. When parents get tired of running around with their kids you kind of take them in this area where they have all kinds of games to play. You cool off, sit against the wall, rest your feet. But everything is tailor-made for kids and parents to bring families together.
Have you been on any of the rides?
I don’t ride the rides. I never have. I have a tendency to get motion sickness. Also, I’m a little bit chicken. With all my hair I got so much to lose, like my wig or my shoes. I don’t like to get messed up. I’m gonna have some handsome man mess it up, I don’t want some ride doing it.
No matter where in the world you go, you always come home and contribute here. Can you talk to me about that?
I think you should be able to be proud of where you’re from. I didn’t leave here to get away from my people. I wanted to do other things, I wanted to go see the world, but I was always proud to be a country girl.
I knew this would be a wonderful business venture, but I also knew it would really bring a lot of joy and happiness and a lot of jobs, too. That was important to me. Growing up poor, I know how important it is to make a living. And take pride in it.
Will people hear your music at Wildwood Grove?
Oh yes, they’ll play my music in a lot of the stores. It’s a little theme. Hopefully it’s not enough to make you gag.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.
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Tariro Mzezewa is a travel reporter at The New York Times. @tariro
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