Guests flock to Dollywood on Friday after the Gatlinburg fires


Dollywood reopened Friday and guests came out to support Dolly Parton's Pigeon Forge theme park.

Vivien Czegledy, a Sevierville resident, said she wanted to give back to the park because it is helping those affected by the fires.

The Dollywood Foundation announced in a news release Friday that the recently created My People Fund will be open to both renters and homeowners whose residences are uninhabitable or were destroyed by wildfires in the Smokies. To date more than 1,000 structures have been affected by the fire, and 13 people have died.

'I think the most important person on this earth is Dolly Parton and how she is supporting other people in our community,' said Czegledy, while standing near one of the park's entrances. 'We need to support her back as well ... she's supporting other people. I'm able to support her.'

Since the fund was established, more than $1 million has been raised, according to Dollywood Director of Public Relations Pete Owens.

'It's important for us to be reopening today because tourism is the economic engine here,' Owens said. 'And there were a lot of people ... that had planned to have to have a holiday getaway here during this time period, and certainly there are hundreds of thousands that have planned to be here through the holidays, and it's important to restart that economic engine to provide funding for a lot of things that people are going to need, and more importantly putting people back to work.'

After wildfires Monday night, Dollywood closed Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Owens explained that the parked closed those days to focus on the Dollywood employees and to look at how the park could help the community.

'We had, originally I think, 70 (employees) that had been displaced that had chosen to leave their homes whether they were officially evacuated or not, and ... we're down to 22 that really don't know what the status of their homes are, but we do have 10 of our hosts that lost their homes, so we're focused on them..'

Several Dollywood guests came to the park despite the recent fires and said they were enjoying their time there. Patrick Trousdale of Lawrenceburg, Tenn., said he and his family left their home at 3 a.m. to get to Pigeon Forge when Dollywood opened at 2 p.m.

'We had the trip already planned, and we decided to not let that stop us of course,' Trousdale said. It’s a family event for us. We've doing it about eight years now, so when we found out the park was going to be open today. We decided just to come on and be a part of it.'

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Maggie Jones

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