In rural northwest Tennessee's Obion County - about a two-hour drive from downtown Memphis - a spectacular new attraction called Discovery Park of America has opened. This family-friendly destination is part museum, part education center. Here, it's all about bringing imagination to life.
The expansive Discovery Park includes 40 acres of outdoor activities in addition to the 100,000-square-foot Discovery Center — Photo courtesy of Discovery Park of America
The 50-acre grounds of Discovery Park are themselves filled with wonder, as is the massive, 100,000-square-foot Discovery Center, which serves as a natural history and regional history museum. The center includes a dinosaur hall and a military gallery filled with artifacts from every war America has been a part of. This gallery includes veterans speaking about their experiences on video, a PT-17 Stearman plane that hangs from the ceiling and a Vietnam-era Marine Corps chopper that kids (and adults) can climb in and explore.
The Dinosaur Hall — Photo courtesy of Discovery Park of America
In the regional history gallery, the earthquake simulator will likely be the biggest draw. It simulates the earthquakes of 1811 to 1812 that created nearby Reelfoot Lake. Other sure hits with the kids will be the huge aquarium that includes pop-up holes for closer observation of aquatic life, and the giant sculpture of a man that can be climbed on - and includes a 50-foot slide.
A giant human form invites playing — Photo courtesy of Discovery Park of America
Outdoors, the fun and discovery continue with a rail depot and vintage train cars. There's also a barn and pioneer-style settlement, where the area's agricultural roots are explored - complete with a working gristmill and blacksmith shop. Extensive gardens dot the landscape, featuring traditional Japanese, American and European gardens. And their huge great lawn will be the location for outdoor concerts and events.
This massive, almost $100 million park was imagined (and mostly funded) by Obion County natives Robert and Jenny Kirkland. The Kirklands, who made their fortune through a chain of home decor stores, committed $80 million for the creation of Discovery Park. Their foundation has also pledged millions more annually to maintain and expand it.