By Joe Tennis
“In my Tennesse mountain home, life’s as peaceful as a baby’s sight…crickets sing in fields nearby,” sings Dolly Parton.
Parton has come back to her Tennessee mountain home to help celebrate the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Parton, 63, who grew up in the foothills of the Smokies, is serving as the park’s ambassador.
“I’m very honored about that whole thing,” the entertainer said during a news conference earlier this year at her Dollywood theme park in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. “It’s the most visited national park in the United States, and a lot of people are surprised when I say that.”
As part of the national park’s anniversary, Parton has also penned songs for “Sha-Kon-O-Hey,” a Dollywood musical production that tells the story of the Great Smoky Mountains along the Tennessee-North Carolina border.
“We have created this show to help celebrate it,” Parton said. “That’s the biggest production that we’ve had … And all the money from the songs that I wrote for that musical goes to benefit the Smokies and all the different programs that they have.”
For Parton, Dollywood recreates the days of growing up at nearby Sevierville and memories of the county fair, she said. “It kind of came out of a thing to where I just wanted to have a wonderful place for kids and families to have fun.”
Parton was born in Sevierville, Tenn., and was the fourth of twelve children.
“From the first time that I remember remembering anything,” Parton said, “I was very involved in the sounds of the birds and the crickets and all that stuff. And I actually started making up songs when I was about five years old.”
Parton rose to fame in the late 1960s with hits like “Dumb Blonde” and “Just Someone I Used to Know.” She has since become an international star of stage, screen and song, starring in movies such as“Steel Magnolias” and “9 to 5.”
Through the years, still, she has returned to the Great Smokies. Dollywood, perched on the outskirts of the Great Smoky Mountains, opened in 1986 at the site of the former Silver Dollar City theme park, located in the busy commercial district of Pigeon Forge.
The park, along with its thrill rides and musical acts, also harbors the little-known Eagle Mountain Sanctuary, a living showcase of American bald eagles.
In Dollywood’s Craftman’s Valley, more than a dozen non-releasable eagles take flight in a 1.5 million-cubic-foot natural outdoor aviary that recreates the birds’ natural habitat.
“We love having the sanctuary here at the park,” Parton said during a telephone interview. “We also have a ‘Birds of Prey’ show here for the eagles and some of the birds that have been injured too much to fly.”
Launched in 1990, Dollywood’s complex includes the “Wings of America” Theatre; the neighboring Birds of Prey viewing facility; and an eagle breeding and rehabilitation facility, including an eagle medical clinic and nursery that is not open to the public.
“Over at the sanctuary, we raise new baby eagles from eggs,” Parton said. “Then we turn them loose in the wild.”
Dollywood’s Eagle Mountain Sanctuary is a cooperative effort between the park and the American Eagle Foundation (AEF), a non-profit organization with permits from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency to possess, care for, exhibit, rehabilitate and breed birds of prey.
“We started this back when they were endangered – the bald eagle,” Parton said. “And now they’re plentiful again. And we’re very excited that we were part of that at the beginning.”
For Parton, helping to give a home to the eagles, even amid the crowded atmosphere of the park, is one way to help the environment.
“I hope we never destroy our mountains for any reason,” Parton said. “I hope that we all get smart in time to salvage everything. It would be a shame to see the Appalachian Mountain or the Smokies, or any of that, the whole region, be sacrificed to do anything.”
JUST THE FACTS:
Eagle Mountain Sanctuary at Dollywood, 1020 Dollywood Lane, Pigeon Forge, Tenn., (865) 428-9488 or (800) 365-5996. www.dollywood.com