Editor’s Note: In the spirit of celebration of our country’s birthday this month, we thought it would be fun to take a closer look at one of our most popular attractions—Wild Eagle—because it represents one of our nation’s beloved symbols. This article by Pete Owens was originally published in Roller Coaster Magazine in 2013.
Be an eagle not a chicken!
Dolly Parton’s lyrically comedic prose separates the riders from the watchers at Dollywood this season as Wild Eagle, America’s first wing coaster, debuts to rave reviews. The $20 million Bollinger and Mabillard designed coaster took flight for the first time on March 24, 2011 but the design and development process stretches back nearly four years.
Just behind Dollywood’s award-winning Mystery Mine coaster, the park’s designers began the laborious task of creating Wilderness Pass – the 900 foot walkway that connects Timber Canyon home to Thunderhead and Mystery Mine with Craftsman’s Valley and Tennessee Tornado.
“We literally moved a mountain,” Gene Scherrer, Dollywood Vice President and General Manager said. “As the layers of earth and rock were removed to create the walkway, we immediately identified some locations for attractions. The top of the hill where Wild Eagle lives was the best of those locations and we knew we needed to find something special.”
Through the next three years the rest of the ‘Pass continued its transformation from scarred quarry to a keenly designed and presented showcase of unique rides and attraction just waiting for the coup de grace – Wild Eagle.
“We had a storyline we were following going back to 2004,” Anthony Esparza, former Wild Eagle Project Leader explained. “We explored the timber industry with Thunderhead… then mining with Mystery Mine; both were key to the development of the Great Smoky Mountains.”
Selection and construction
In 2010, Dollywood’s design and development team began looking at the area on top of the hill and asked some key ride designers to do some spec designs off of the topography of the site.
“We asked them to open all their hiding places and give us something unique and game-changing no one had ever seen before,” Esparza said. “They delivered!”
When the designs were reviewed, the distinctiveness of the wing design B&M provided and its use of the terrain of Dollywood made it the perfect selection for Dollywood’s largest investment up to this point.
Height: 190 feet above the station, 220 feet above grade
Length: 3,127 feet
1st drop: 135 feet
Top speed: 61 MPH
Ride time: 2:22
Construction began well before the announcement of the project to the general public. All of the footers were in place and most of the more than 60 semi-trailers of ride track and supports were on property at Dollywood before the Public Relations team made the announcement. The park selected Boomsday in Knoxville, Tennessee, the largest Labor Day fireworks display in the country. As Dolly’s voice called out the name Wild Eagle, before an estimated 350,000 people on Knoxville’s riverfront, the ride’s laser projected logo shown over the sky like the bat signal. The word was out and now construction could begin in earnest.
“The ride erection may be one of the smoothest and fastest at Dollywood,” Brian Dudash, Director of Construction and Development said. “We completed the track work nearly a month ahead of schedule which left time for us to focus on the details of the ride station and Wild Eagle Plaza.”
That attention to detail on the station and plaza coupled with the addition of a world-record sized steel eagle sculpture make the entry and pre-ride experience something special. The two-story tall, five-story wide stainless and mild steel eagle sculpted by Canadian artist Kevin Stone stands guard over Wild Eagle Plaza. Directly across from the open winged eagle climbs the shining blue lift hill ascending 220 feet up and over Dollywood’s tallest point.