9:15 PM CDT, April 24, 2012
PIGEON FORGE, Tenn. — Given the well-grounded corporate nervousness of those in the leisure industry about being associated with any particular religious belief, it's unusual to approach a roller coaster and be greeted by a Bible verse.
But Dollywood (dollywood.com), the park nestled in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains, knows its customers and has long done things its own way.
So when the thrill-seeker walks up to the Wild Eagle, the new $20 million attraction at Dolly Parton's eponymous leisure destination, he or she runs smack bang into Isaiah 40:31: "But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings likes eagles, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."
Wild Eagle, which opened March 24 and was designed by the renowned Swiss firm of Bolliger & Mabillard, is the first "wing coaster" in the United States. That means riders don't sit over the track as in a conventional roller coaster but on either side of it, with nothing above or beneath them but the rush of air. Each seven-row car seats four people per row, in pairs on either side of the track. It's a bit like hitching a ride on the wing of a huge bird.
Six Flags Great America in Gurnee, Ill., is set to bow in the second U.S. wing coaster, called X-Flight, in May. But Dollywood has set the bar high for aptness of theme. Riding the 60-mph Wild Eagle feels as if you are replicating an eagle's flight (or, at least, as close as you can get to that feeling on a ride).
It doesn't last nearly as long as you would wish.
Perhaps better than any other coaster in the world, Wild Eagle takes advantage of the natural topography of the trees and mountains that surround Dollywood, enabling riders, especially those boarding at dusk, to feel as if they are swirling and swooping above and beyond God's country.
It is a ride that offers not a branded experience but a soaring, transcendent remove from the every day.
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