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Discovery Park In Union City, Tennessee

You can experience an earthquake such as the ones that rocked this area of Northwest Tennessee in 1811 and 1812 changing the terrain and creating a brand new waterway, Reelfoot Lake. The Earthquake Simulator is only one of the reasons you will want to visit Discovery Park

Discovery Park building In Union City, Tennessee

The other reasons are as varied as life on earth. From dinosaurs to space travel, it's all here. The park is so much more than a park as you think of the average park as just a place to relax and have fun. Sure, it is all of that and more. It's also a place of knowledge, yet it can't be called a museum either. This is no stuffy building where you wander around and look but don't touch. This is a totally new interactive experience. Robert Kirkland, the philanthropist funding Discovery Park, uses the phrase, "go beyond." Perhaps Discovery Park needs to go beyond current language and coin a new word; "parkseum" best fits for me.

Starting with the Natural History Gallery, an eye-catching 100,000 square foot building filled with over two dozen exhibit rooms. The center is totally complete in its tracing of our planet's evolution. It starts with dinosaurs, fossils and rocks and minerals that make up our planet, you move on through eons of time and history to Space Travel.

How would you like to run into this big boy? -- Complete dinosaur fossil in Discovery Center at Discovery Park In Union City, Tennessee

Talk about Jaws!

There are two other features. The Earthquake stimulator which is much more than a ride since it also is a theater in the round with a cute film explaining the history of earthquakes in West Tennessee. Then there is Starship Theater. It's much more than just an Imax Theater. Jessica, one of the many helpful employees stationed all over the center, explained how Starship Theater works. Each chair in the theater has a set of controls. Each guest chooses a role passenger, engineer and one lucky one is captain. There are choices of which planet to visit and many other exciting space travel discoveries. You can spend days wending you way through the center and discovering treats like a set of humanoid skull reproductions tracing man's evolution from Neanderthal to Homan Sapiens, a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, a set of war weapons, aircraft and vehicles that will blow you away. Guys don't miss the transportation. Those of us of a certain age love seeing the beauty of those big finned powerhouse autos again. They have everything from W.C. Fields limo to Dale Earnhardt, Jr.'s race car.

Just a tiny portion of the transportation exhibit

Part of the Military Exhibit

This place is for all ages not just kids but they do have a special toddlers area for the tiny ones.

Then there is The Tower, a meeting room area that will have all the guests staring at the panoramic views surrounding them so any speaker would have to be really compelling to get any attention.

The Cafe at Discovery Park

Along with exhibits, the center offers several learning experience for children of all ages. Russell, one of the instructors at the center, was doing a class in the Natural History Center. He explained how he works his class with the children. "I explain earthquakes here in exhibit room where I can use the interactive globe. I can show fault lines, drain oceans, visit other planets, show all recorded earthquakes and lots more. Then the kids go to the traveling exhibit room and do games related to earthquakes and have and then lunch."

Speaking of lunch, the Café at Discovery Park is a beautifully Deco style area with lots of food choices and great views while you eat.

And that's just inside Discovery Center. Outside, you have two paths you can follow to explore the 50 acre park. Both equally fascinating. Two food wagons are set at the entrance if you want to grab a fast bite and dine outside.

If you choose the North Path, you step back in time to the 1800s and visit a pioneer settlement complete with a 150 year old dogtrot cabin and every other home and building you would expect to find in Davy Crockett's time. Across the small lake, there is the mill settlement where you find the necessities of life in the 19th century, a gristmill, a blacksmith shop, a one-room school and others. Follow the path and you arrive at a barn filled with tractors and farm equipment from past to present.

A family discovers the Pioneer Village

The statue on the path to the Mill is so realistic

If you choose the South Path, you visit American's towns as they were in the early 1900s. There is a depot complete with trains you can tour, Freedom Hall containing many of America's historical treasures such as a replica of the Liberty Bell. There is an old fashioned drug store and a firehouse. The highlight is a 1852 chapel that was moved to the grounds. A stature of Abraham Lincoln oversees the square.

Who doesn't love vintage trains?

Ave Lincoln oversees Freedom Hall

Two of the park's three gardens, the Japanese and the European, are located behind the Mill Village. The third, the American, is on the South side. John Watkins, the park's grounds director, gave me some statistics on the vast number of plants on the grounds. There are 5000 azaleas, 22000 shrubs and 500 to 600 trees all watered by 17 miles of irrigation system. The grounds are an ever changing paradise. John said, "It's a constant struggle. Because of the cold winter we had a problem keeping the azaleas alive. We try to plant hardy plants natural to the area. We will be putting in about 5000 roses scattered around the park soon."

1853 Chapel at Discovery Park In Union City, Tennessee
Just imagine moving this chapel down the highway.

The benefactor behind this place, Robert Kirkland and his wife, Jenny, have endowed the park amply so it has the best chance of succeeding in spite of its location. In fact, it wouldn't surprise me to see this attraction do like another attraction did for an unknown place in Florida. When Disney World arrive on the scene, Orlando was just another little inland Florida town. Look at it now. This place could do the same for Union City. As a self made millionaire and visionary, Mr. Kirkland has a unique and creative point of view. He said, "The world needs more misfits."

He defined "misfits" as those people who are not satisfied with things as they are and want to make things bigger and better. He has certainly done that with Discovery Park.

As if the permanent attractions at the park are not enough to keep people coming back, there are all kinds of events to be held there. Things like a card boat race, wood carving, pottery classes, paining, a garden walk and a Summer Concert series featuring really big names like Charley Daniels, Travis Tritt and others.

The night we visited we had a real treat. Phillip Coleman and friends preformed a Singer Songwriter Night in one of the Traveling Exhibit Halls. These are the guys that write the songs that soar to number one on the charts. They have written songs for some of the biggest names in Nashville.

Songwriter/singers from right to left: Troy Jones, Phillip Coleman and Winn Varble preform at Discovery Park in Union Coty, Tennessee

Phillip's latest success was All Kinds of Kinds, recorded by Miranda Lambert. His Cost of Living, Ronnie Dunn's first solo after life as Brooks and Dunn, garnered Phillip a Grammy nomination for Song of the Year.

Troy Jones' latest include People are Crazy which earned him a Grammy nomination and stayed at number one on the charts for two consecutive weeks. He has written winning songs for the likes of Kenny Chesney, Tim McGraw, Alan Jackson, George Strait and the list goes on.

Winn Varble has had a string of winners. Topping the list are Waiting on a Woman, by Brad Paisley, I'm a Little More Country Than That, by Easton Corbin and the unforgettable Darryl Worley hit, Have You Forgotten. As you can imagine it was quite a memorable night. Don't take my word for it. Go see for yourself. As Discovery Park's CEO, Jim Rippy says, "Discovery Park is unique. There's no place like it anywhere."

For more info: http://www.discoveryparkofamerica.com/

Provided by American Roads Travel Magazine - Visit American Roads Travel Magazine website.


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