Making her stage entrance in a 1950s-era hot rod, Dolly Parton joined Dollywood executives on Friday to announce plans to build a $22 million record-breaking roller coaster called Lightning Rod.
The thrill ride, which will debut in spring 2016 in Dollywood’s Jukebox Junction, will be the world’s first wood-launch coaster and the world’s fastest wood coaster.
While we have one traditional wood coaster, we wanted to do something that was a little bit special,” Dollywood Co. President Craig Ross said. “It has a lot of fun airtime moments, a little more broader appeal to families — and we wanted to break some world records.”
The coaster, which is the company’s single largest attraction investment in its history, has a 1,500-horsepower launch, sending riders up at 45 mph to more than 20 stories high.
It includes a 165-foot drop that propels the 24-passenger train along its 3,800-foot track to a top speed of 73 mph, and features 90-degree banked turns, a quadruple down drop and 12 “significant airtime moments.”
“That means for less than one-third of the ride, your seat will be off the seat,” Dollywood public relations director Pete Owens told a crowd at The Pines Theatre. “For the other two-thirds, you will be on the edge of your seat.”
The announcement comes a week after Dollywood opened its 300-room DreamMore Resort, which Ross called “an incredible addition” and “a catalyst for further growth.” In the past week, it has seen guests from 25 different states.
The capital investments are part of a $300 million expansion plan first announced by Parton in 2013. Last year, Dollywood opened its Firechaser Express, a $15 million dual-launch roller coaster.
“That type of investment is huge,” said Tennessee Tourism Commissioner Kevin Triplett, who attended Friday’s event. “They’ve dedicated $300 million over the next few years to bring people to Tennessee, and it works. We crossed 100 million visitors last year for the first time in our state’s history, and it’s because of things like this, because of the investment of Dollywood and the passion they have to bring people here and make sure they have a good time, because that’s what brings them back.”
Lightning Rod, manufactured by Idaho-based Rocky Mountain Construction and built into the mountains behind the park, will be the eighth roller coaster for Dollywood and Splash Country, including the $20 million Wild Eagle wing coaster and the $6 million RiverRush, the state’s first and only water coaster, at Splash Country.
It will be the park’s second wood coaster, joining Thunderhead, which opened in 2004.