Lock in those lap bars — this trip down memory lane is a roller coaster. It’s been 26 years since Opryland USA last opened its theme park doors to the public, but that doesn’t mean Nashvillians have stopped thinking about the thrills of the Screamin’ Delta Demon or the Wabash Cannonball.
- Opryland was open from May 1972 to December 1997. At its peak, the park was drawing in over 2 million visitors annually.
- The final time the park expanded in 1981, it introduced the “Grizzly Country” area home to the Grizzly River Rampage. The ride was to be promoted by the Grizzly River Boys (now known as Diamond Rio) for a one-time TV special, but it ended up becoming an ongoing attraction.
- “Family Feud” taped several episodes at Opryland in 1993 during host Ray Combs’ final season, which featured notable figures like Brenda Lee and the Mandrells.
- In 1995, the whitewater rafting Grizzly River Rampage was also used as the course for qualifying rounds for the 1996 Summer Olympics.
- The Roy Acuff Theater featured a live version of “Hee Haw” during the day — read more about the TV series. This theater was located outside of the park gates, so anyone could buy tickets to watch the musical productions without having to pay park admission.
- The Hangman, an inverted roller coaster that debuted just two years before the park’s closure, cost $8.5 million to build and was the last major attraction installed. The Hangman now operates under the name “Kong” at Six Flags Discovery Kingdom in California.
When the rides stopped rolling
Contrary to many theme park closures, Opryland remained in good standing in its final years, despite the opening of nearby competition like Kentucky Kingdom and Dollywood.
The primary issue, according to Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp CEO Butch Spyridon, was that the park wasn’t “growing revenue” due its lack of available land for expansion and new roller coasters + attractions. Executives decided instead that a mall, Opry Mills, would be more profitable.
Perhaps the best way to share the story of a historical Nashville landmark is through the tales of the Nashvillians who created memories there. We asked our readers to reminisce on the theme park, and their stories breathed new life into the conversation.
“Opryland was our childhood happy place! We would wake up early and drive up with mom and dad to be there when the park opened. The rides, the food, the shows! It was a family affair and brings back such special happy, fun memories for us.” — @sisadventures
“I have such fond memories. Born and raised in Franklin, I would come here pretty much every weekend from 1989 to 1997. Chaos was my absolute favorite; It was so visually stimulating and just a classic ride. I also loved the food smells and other rides like Wabash [Cannonball], Screaming Delta Demon, Dueling Stains, Grizzly River Rampage, and definitely Hangman! [...] Holiday World is reminiscent of Opryland, and I will go there from time to time. Nothing beats Opryland.” — Lindsay C.
“I don’t remember much except the musical instruments. I had just turned 4, and I think kids under 4 got in free. My dad was trying to get me in free, and I blurted out, ‘I’m 4 now, Daddy!’” — Sandee B.
“While it isn’t my memory, my husband grew up here and was excited to ride the Hangman. Sadly, he was too short to ride it by the time they closed, and his cousins made sure to make fun of him for that. So 26 years later, we went to California to ride it, front row, first ones of the day. It was excellent closure.” — M. W.
“I worked in the Dixieland section at Opryland its first summer open. For memories, I always carried my camera with me, although it wasn’t my job. I took a photo of one of the regular performing groups, the Four Guys, a popular country music group. I posed them standing on the bank of the Cumberland River. That photo ended up being their promotional photo. Until a few years ago, it was on the wall at Tootsies.” — Deborah V.
“Not long after I took over as Executive Director of Special Olympics TN in 1988, Eddie Rabbitt called and invited me to bring some Special Olympics athletes over for lunch and his show at the outdoor stage. I’m certain I was more thrilled than the athletes. He was genuinely one of the nicest country artists I [have] ever met.” — Alan B.
“So many years of attending and fun. Parents would let us run through the park and ride the rides while they attended the shows. It was safe, and we always met at the determined time so we could keep our freedom. Loved staying in the park at night, and rides like the Rock n’ Roller Coaster would let you go twice if the lines weren’t long. Just a fun place to be, and even as a 56-year-old, I miss it every summer.” — Jane Z.
“I loved when my grandma would take me, my sister, and my brother to Opryland all the time during the summer. It was the early 90s. I was in 3rd or 4th grade. At that time, the Chaos roller coaster and the “log ride” (that’s what I called it) were my favorites. I met Brooks & Dunn there. I actually walked up to them and confirmed that that’s who they were! Memories like that are gravely missed. It felt so wholesome. We were able to just wander around as kids then.” — Tyanna N.