Dollywood makes splash with new water coaster

J. H. Osborne • May 10, 2013 at 11:26 PM

PIGEON FORGE — Tennessee’s first water coaster officially opens today at Dollywood’s Splash Country.

The $6 million attraction is the newest and largest expansion in Splash Country’s history.

Dolly Parton “threw the lever” Friday to send the first raft-like “toboggan boat” of passengers on RiverRush’s debut voyage, during a sneak peak open to season pass holders, media and VIPs.

The water park’s 2013 season begins today.

Parton said adding the water coaster this year just seemed a natural follow-up to last year’s opening of the hugely popular “Wild Eagle” coaster — which helped Dollywood break attendance records.

“We got it ready for this season,” Parton said. “I think the kids are going to love having a (water) coaster. We want to add things that kids enjoy, but that parents can also enjoy. Dollywood’s all about making time for family. In this day and time, everybody’s kind of off doing everything ... they’re always texting or tweeting or Facebooking. So Dollywood is a wonderful place to come and have some family time.”

Parton said work already is under way for new attractions next season — the particulars of which will be announced in August — and “We will always be adding new stuff to Dollywood, hopefully for as long as I live and long after that.”

And while earlier-announced plans for a Nashville-area park haven’t worked out, Parton said she hasn’t given up on bringing an attraction of some kind to what she calls her second hometown.

“We still do hope, at some time in the future, to do something in Nashville,” Parton said. “We’ll have something. Don’t know when, don’t know what, but eventually we will get there with something.”

RiverRush, a four-story-tall 1,175-track-feet-long hydromagnetic coaster, sends riders up and through four drops — including a 25-foot 45-degree plunge right at the get-go.

Initially propelled by a high-speed conveyor belt, RiverRush’s four-person toboggan-style boats first climb 237 feet before entering that first plunge.

From there, riders are sent on a trip up into the trees, back down, and through multiple twists and turns — in and out of tunnels, much like a traditional water slide attraction. But RiverRush is a water roller coaster, combining aspects of a water slide, log flume ride, and traditional roller coaster.

The 10.5-foot toboggans hurtle through the course along with water that gushes at a rate of 12,000 gallons per minute. But unlike a typical water slide, these boats don’t just follow gravity to the bottom of a course.

That’s where the “coaster” part of the equation comes in — magnets in the track fire sequentially, moving the toboggans just as fast when they’re going uphill.

That shoots the boats up and over the next hill, then they slide down like a regular coaster until they reach the bottom — where they hit another magnetic section and it launches them up the next incline.

The closest similar installation of a water coaster featuring the same type technology by the same company is in Cincinnati — but that’s an indoor ride. The closest similar ride located outdoors like RiverRush is in Indiana.

Another unique characteristic to RiverRush: riders will get on after walking down a long boardwalk that begins near the ride’s uppermost peaks, winding down and across some sections of the track and through a shaded grove before climbing into a toboggan.

RiverRush’s location also offers spectators an unusual vantage point for watching friends or family members ride the water coaster — because you’ll be able to look down on much of the ride, rather than crane your neck upward as you would when viewing a typical coaster.

RiverRush covers more than an acre in a newly developed area near Splash Country’s Big Bear Plunge (a slide inspired by white water rafting).

The minimum height requirement to ride RiverRush is 42 inches and the ride has a capacity of 720 passengers per hour.

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