By Hope S. Philbrick
A solid argument can be made that nobody embodies the Deep South better than Dolly Parton. A recent media-only event was held at the site of the star’s newest accommodation option being built near Dollywood. The construction of HeartSong Lodge & Resort was a key point of conversation, as was the newest addition at the neighboring DreamMore Resort and the Parton family’s support of the American Chestnut Foundation.
The platform where Dolly stood to talk was shaded by a tent, but at this time the future resort is primarily steel framing, and she proved that her charm fills even an open-air room.
Dollywood’s HeartSong Lodge & Resort
“HeartSong Lodge & Resort is really just about the Smoky Mountains,” said Dolly, wearing a pantsuit that will later be on display in HeartSong’s lobby (it was designed to reveal and ultimately coordinate with the planned color scheme). “I love the Smokies! They always bring me home, restore me, recharge my batteries. The mountains mean the world to me. The beauty of the mountains—at every hour, in every season—is simply an inspiration.”
Located near Dollywood in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, the HeartSong property is a short drive up from DreamMore Resort. “This will be more of a lounge-type hotel,” Dolly said. The five-story lodge will offer 302 rooms and suites, including options for multi-generational families and couples, themed suites and bunk rooms. Many guestrooms will have balconies to allow guests to admire the surrounding views. Groups will enjoy the hospitality rooms and 26,000 square feet of flexible indoor and outdoor space for meetings and events. On-site amenities will include a 40-seat private dining room, 195-seat signature restaurant, mercantile, lobby lounge and grab-and-go eatery.
HeartSong is expected to open in late 2023. “I can’t wait to see it all finished!” said Dolly, surely verbalizing what we’re all thinking. “DreamMore is beautiful and something that we’re proud of, but this is our second resort and we’re very excited about it. We will have more later on,” she said, hinting at even more future expansion.
Dolly performed a song she wrote to celebrate HeartSong:
New at DreamMore Resort: Suite 1986
Can’t wait until 2023 to sleep near Dollywood? DreamMore Resort is already open and is a great hotel that manages to convey Dolly’s style and humor while pampering guests—plus it has a unique new accommodation option. Guests can now sleep in Dolly Parton’s retired tour bus!
The “Suite 1986” Tour Bus Experience is a unique opportunity to stay in what served as Dolly’s home away from home for 15 years. It’s now parked on a pad that’s fenced alongside the hotel.
For most of us, this is a once-in-a-lifetime experience—if that. A minimum two-night stay is required, and the starting rate is $10,000.
OK, maybe it’s not for most of us, but it starts to sound doable when you discover that while only two are allowed to sleep inside the bus at one time, the reservation includes a room inside DreamMore Resort, which can accommodate up to four additional guests. So you could gather up five of your Dolly-loving buddies, divvy up the cost ($1,666 per person) and take turns snoozing in the bus. The price includes special amenities like concierge service for the entire length of your stay, one-of-a-kind food offerings created by the resort’s award-winning culinary team, customized keepsake souvenirs (keep the gifts, don’t steal stuff off the bus!), plus tickets to Dollywood, Splash Country, Stampede and other Dolly-affiliated attractions.
One Dollywood PR representative said that Suite 1986 guests will be able to work out details of where they want to go with the concierge and get escorted around in a golf cart like VIPs. What’s more, all proceeds will be donated to The Dollywood Foundation, which in part funds her Imagination Library.
The Prevost bus is where she wrote dozens of songs and worked on a number of hit projects, including her “Backwoods Barbie” album as well as “9 to 5 the Musical.” Dolly’s tour bus served as a rolling sanctuary that was specially adapted and upgraded so she could do two of her favorite things—write and cook—from any locale. The bus has a full-sized refrigerator, special closet to accommodate Dolly’s glitter- and rhinestone-studded wardrobe, wig cabinet, custom bathtub and electric doors.
American Chestnut Foundation
Pointing to a wee chestnut sapling on stage, Dolly shared some family history. “My Uncle Bill [Owens] was my mentor,” Dolly said. “When I was little, he took me around to sing on Cas Walker’s show, radio shows—anything we could do Uncle Bill took me there. He took me to Nashville in the early days. Bill lived in these mountains and got involved in chestnut trees when the blight killed them all. He wanted to be one of the people responsible for helping bring the great chestnut tree back. He and his wife Sandy planted little trees like this one around for years and years. As a result of that work, he has been honored in a new documentary about the chestnut tree.”
Once HeartSong is complete, a hybrid chestnut tree will be planted in a prominent place to honor Bill Owens and the work of The American Chestnut Foundation. Chestnut trees will be featured prominently in the artwork that will adorn the walls of guest rooms throughout the resort.
Parton invited Lisa Thomson, president and CEO of the American Chestnut Foundation, to join her on stage. Lisa presented Parton with the Chestnut Conservation Champion Award—the foundation’s highest accolade—honoring Dolly’s late uncle Bill Owens.
Thomson explained that more than a century ago, nearly four billion American chestnut trees were growing in the eastern U.S. In the late 1800s, an airborne fungus was accidentally imported into the country from Asia and first detected in New York in 1904. American chestnut trees had no resistance to the disease, which quickly crept down the region. By 1950, the fungus had eliminated the American chestnut as a mature forest tree. “Before the blight, one in every four trees in the Great Smoky Mountains was an American chestnut tree,” said Lisa.
What once dominated the forest is now gone. It’s hard to imagine how much grander the mountains must have looked before its tallest trees vanished.
The roots didn’t die, however, leaving hope behind the tragedy. Sprouts still emerge and grow a foot or two tall before dying. “We’ve been working for years to bring back the great American chestnut through science and breeding,” said Lisa. “It’s a hopeful mission. Bill is special to the American Chestnut Foundation because he was an evangelist for the chestnut and he worked very hard to bring it back—he planted a lot of trees.”
“Bill and I wrote a song about the chestnut tree,” said Dolly. “It was his mission—he just felt led to do it and he worked so hard. I’m sorry he can’t be here today. We lost Uncle Bill two years ago, but he’ll always live in the chestnut tree and in our hearts for sure.”
“It’s a long-term mission to make the chestnut tree come back,” added Lisa. “Trees grow slow and science takes a long time, but we are going to bring the trees back because they’re important to the people for the wood, nuts, wildlife and livestock—it’s an iconic and important tree ecologically and economically.”
The mission continues, with Dolly’s support of course.
Photos by Hope S. Philbrick.
Hope S. Philbrick became a freelance writer and editor because she believes that work and fun should not be mutually exclusive. Based in Atlanta, Georgia, her focus is travel, food, wine and spirits (as in booze, not ghosts). She’s been published in dozens of publications nationwide. Follow her on Instagram @21plusTravel.