Remembering Opryland USA 25 years after closure

Posted at 7:28 PM, Dec 29, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-29 21:04:30-05

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — It may be hard to believe, but this week marks 25 years since the closing of the Opryland USA theme park. So many people have great memories of the place. A couple with deep ties to the park remember why it was so special.

"I've kept this jacket all these years, and with a corset, I can still get in it," laughed Russ Jeffers, holding up an Opryland jacket.

Russ and wife Becky have a whole lot of memories of the Opryland USA theme park. They should. They spent 24 years on stage there, 500 shows each year.

"It was like Mayberry in a theme park," Becky said.

"Once you entered that complex, it was joy," Russ added. "It was like being in high school all over again. It was just a fun place."

The park opening in 1972, it was always the people who made the place so special for Russ and Becky. That included country music legends.

"This was a hat given to me by Porter Wagoner and by Manuel," Russ continued.

He turned his attention to an old picture.

"There's Mr. Acuff with us on stage. He loved that theme park, Mr. Roy did."

"It was wonderful," Becky said. "It was like family, and they were family. They were our Opryland family. God gave it to us, and sometimes he closes those doors and opens other ones."

It was Porter Wagoner himself who told Russ and Becky he'd heard the park might be closing.

"I was in shock," Becky said.

"I said, 'Porter, you're crazy. Nobody in their right mind is going to bulldoze an entire theme park like this!'" said Russ.

Porter was right. Opryland closed in December 1997.

"I'm one of the few people who told Porter Wagoner he was crazy and got away with it!" Russ laughed.

"It was so hard to fathom that could just go away," said Becky.

Russ and Becky remember these final nights performing at Opryland. We asked them the question. If Opryland had never closed, would they still be performing there?

"If they provided walkers," Russ smiled.

"I don't think we've ever healed," Becky continued. "We miss the park. I wish we had another park for the people to come to that was just like Opryland. It will forever hold a special place in our hearts."

Twenty-five years later, they're not alone in sharing their love for Opryland.

An Opryland USA Facebook group has more than 21,000 members.

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