Dollywood is soaring to new heights for its 2012 season.
The theme park has announced it's introducing the Wild Eagle steel wing coaster, a $20 million attraction that will lift riders 21 stories and plummet them more than 135 feet.
"It will be the highest thing in the park, obviously," said Pete Owens, publicity manager for Dollywood. "For the first time, we will have a ride visible from the parking lot.
"It's something that will become an icon of the park."
The coaster will be the first of its kind in the United States, Dollywood said in a release, and represents the largest single capital investment in the theme park's 26-year history.
"Experiencing the freedom of flight, the new coaster's innovative floorless design positions riders seated four abreast in a forward-facing position, with two riders actually seated on the 'wings' along either side of the coaster's track with nothing but air above and below them," the release stated.
Wild Eagle, which measures 3,127 feet, will feature a top speed of 61 miles per hour.
This new ride will join Dollywood's family of coasters — the wooden Thunderhead and the steel Mystery Mine.
The cost of building the Wild Eagle will exceed Dollywood's latest addition — the Barnstormer and the Owens Farm section, which cost $6 million to create.
Dollywood gave a grand introduction to the Wild Eagle during tonight's Boomsday celebration on the Knoxville waterfront. At approximately 9:30 p.m., fireworks and a laser light show accompanied a prerecorded announcement from Dolly Parton.
Dollywood is hoping such bravado will show a payoff in its latest investment. Attendance so far for the 2011 season is down about 5 percent from 2010. Owens said the hotter-than-normal summer, rising gas prices and high unemployment have all been factors in visitation.
Attendance in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the city of Pigeon Forge has been off this season as well.
Dollywood's late summer events, "Barbecue and Bluegrass" along with "Dollywood Nights," have helped to raise recent attendance figures, he said.
Fall's crafts festival and the Christmas celebrations, featuring a new musical production, "Dollywood on Ice," may also help boost numbers, Owens said.
"We are very optimistic as a whole," he said of the season's final numbers.
Terry Morrow may be reached at 865-342-6445 or email@example.com.
© 2011, Knoxville News Sentinel Co.
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