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Goals and challenges

Dollywood’s Splash Country is awash in Smoky Mountain storytelling.

Upon arrival, visitors cross a bridge to be greeted by a 110-foot-tall waterfall that spills into a lazy river attraction called the Downbound Float Trip — a nod to the river culture of the region, where everything is “downbound” from the Great Smoky Mountains.

That sets the scene for a waterpark that is replete with rustic charm. Plank-sided outbuildings with rusty tin roofs set against a woodsy backdrop lend a quaint, down-home feel that is consistent throughout the 35-acre property.

Nestled into a hollow in the foothills, Splash Country uses the hillsides as lift towers for many of the original attractions, making it stand apart from its flat, concrete counterparts.

How they did it

Don’t think for a second that Dolly Parton simply serves as a glorified mascot. She owns Dollywood and was actively involved in the design.

Parton didn’t merely want a citified waterpark, say officials. She’s a storyteller and she wants to make sure that the storytelling of the people, the places and the natural beauty of the area are all translated through the attractions and general look of the park.

Splash Country harkens to Parton’s childhood of summers spent cooling off in creeks and challenging her siblings to slide down mossy river rocks.

Nowhere is this idyllic beauty better reflected than the Cascades, an 8,000-square-foot leisure pool that appears to be patterned on the sort of inviting watering hole you might find hidden deep within the Great Smoky Mountains. Water cascades down a giant rock grotto, with a felled timber as a clever country touch.

It’s that sense of discovery offered by the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, just five miles north, that Parton’s oasis aims to mimic.

As the park has grown in size, it's added attractions that are indicative of experiences people can have naturally in the national park. For example, Big Bear Plunge and Raging River Rapids are reminiscent of the sort of river expeditions that helped make the mountains famous.

Fire towers, which can be spotted all along the ridge lines of the Smokies, also figure prominently in the park. With each blare of a fire alarm, a 1,000-gallon bucket atop Bear Mountain Fire Tower douses guests and triggers a chain reaction of subsequent smaller buckets at the lower levels, soaking visitors for extra measure. Thrill-seekers also can take a daring plunge down 70-foot-tall twin speed slides — the tallest in the state — called Fire Tower Falls.

Though Dollywood is located in Pigeon Forge, the theme park is a departure from the strip of family attractions that comprise this community of less than 4,000.

Rather, Dollywood and Splash Country derive inspiration from Seiverville, the county seat and Dolly’s hometown — the local icon has been commemorated with a bronze statue there — and Gatlinburg. The influence of Gatlinburg, in particular, can be seen throughout both parks. This picturesque community is renowned for Appalachian hospitality — a theme that no doubt will be amplified when Dollywood completes its $300 million expansion, which includes the 307-room DreamMore Resort, set to open next summer.