By Stephen M. Silverman And Sarah Elkins
Updated July 02, 2003 11:35 AM
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Dolly Parton and America’s National Wildlife Refuge System christened the National Zoo’s newest exhibit Wednesday with a gift of two American bald eagles, named Sam and Tioga, who will be the centerpieces of the attraction, reports PEOPLE’s Washington D.C. bureau.

The birds had been living at the American Eagle Foundation’s headquarters, located on the grounds of Parton’s Pigeon Forge, Tenn., theme park, Dollywood, which is federally licensed to care for more than 70 endangered birds of prey, including 35 eagles.

The country superstar’s two nieces, Rebecca Seaver, 16, and Hannah Dennison, 15, participated in the ceremonial cutting of the exhibit’s red ribbon. “They’re hoping they’ll get their names in the paper,” quipped Parton, 57, who also said of their feathered friends: “Sam’s the girl, Tioga’s the boy — don’t ask, don’t tell!”

Because Parton’s nieces had never visited Washington, D.C., before, their aunt decided her July 4th concert on the National Mall would make a perfect opportunity for the girls to see the city.

And while this will be the first Independence Day that Parton spends in the nation’s capital, it is not the first one she has spent working. “I don’t really have any 4th of July traditions,” she says, “because I’m always doing concerts.”

Parton added that this July 4th show’s producer, Walter Miller, has been begging her for years to perform at the foot of the U.S. Capitol. “I promised Walter Miller a year ago that I’d come for the 4th,” she said, “and then this (presentation with the eagles) happened, so everything just fell into place.”