Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee
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Discovery Park of America Opens This November in West Tennessee!

Last week, I attended a sneak preview of Discovery Park of America, scheduled to open Nov. 1, 2013 in Union City, Tennessee. (From Memphis, it’s a straight shot northeast up Highway 51, do-able in just over two hours. From Jackson, it’ll only take you an hour and 20 minutes.)

Discovery Park of America seems to me an if-you-build-it-[they]-will-come kind of place – it literally rises from a cornfield in rural West Tennessee. Until now, the area essentially had one main attraction: Reelfoot Lake State Park.

“Regardless of what we’ve been known for in the past, this is what we’ll be known for now,” said Jim Rippy, Discovery Park of America’s CEO, and one of the principal forces behind its realization.

Skeptical? Go see it.

The scope of it alone is enough to surprise you: a 100,000-square-foot “Discovery Center” – stunning in a design of white, curved lines and glass; soaring with a 200-foot observation tower – set amid an outdoor wonderland of full-size train cars; antique buildings (including a centuries-old schoolhouse and gristmill); tens of thousands of plantings organized into themed gardens; water features and a walking trail that meander.

Discovery Park of America from the outside All photos courtesy of Discovery Park of America

Discovery Park of America from the outside All photos courtesy of Discovery Park of America

Don’t miss this in the Discovery Center

  • Slink past giant skeletons, including a 15-foot-tall, 80-foot-long Apatosaurus, in the main floor atrium (nicknamed Dinosaur Hall).
    Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee
  • Visualize military history from a Civil War cannon shell to a PT-17 Stearman suspended above tanks and a helicopter.

Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee

  • Gawk at a multimillion-dollar collection of antique cars and motorcycles – a 1910 Brush Runabout, a 1965 Cobra and more – in the Transportation hall.
  • Slip behind a bookshelf canted to look like a trick wall out of a whodunit to discover a suit of armor and other curiosities.
  • Get a feel for the region: Shake in a simulation of the New Madrid Earthquakes of 1811-12 that formed Reelfoot Lake; press your nose to a 20,000-gallon aquarium; listen to oral histories.Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee

Best bets for kids and adults

As my preview was part of a VIP event, I knew there would be few kids in attendance. Before arriving, I assumed this would limit my ability to watch the place work its magic. Then, I overheard a woman giggling after the 32-foot slide “shot [her] out.” I watched as a mother and her adult daughter challenged each other to race solar-powered airplanes. I joined six other “grown-ups” playing, mesmerized, with something called Live Sand.

Discovery Park of America, Union City, Tennessee

This 48-foot human’s leg doubles as a super-fast slide.

In the press conference earlier that morning, Discovery Park of America founder and benefactor Robert Kirkland described the attraction as “education and entertainment for all ages.” Now, I’ve been on something of a Southeastern U.S. science museum tour this month (Discovery Park of America marked my fifth such stop in two weeks). I know fun-for-all-ages when I see it. Discovery Park of America is the real deal.

With toddlers Look for “children’s exploration areas” on the Discovery Center’s second and third levels. These tucked-away play spots furnish dress-up stations, a texture wall, that irresistible Live Sand and high-end toys (kid-tough binoculars, wooden fishing poles for catching cloth fish, tag-alongs and such).

With elementary schoolers Race to the Discovery Center’s third level, where a 48-foot human form lures you into a look-out globe, and that super-fast slide will shoot you out onto the second floor. Build something epic together using KEVA blocks. Then, control the five-foot-around Discovery Globe to drain the world’s oceans or create your own weather pattern.

With ‘tweens or adults Pay the upcharge ($3.95 per person) to “board” Starship Theater. When the lights go down, volunteer to be a pilot, engineer, scientist or passenger via the control panel on your armrest. Next, you’ll rumble into space to fulfill your mission – collecting samples for scientific testing, piloting to Earth’s moon, and so on. The intimate, interactive motion simulator is the only one of its kind, designed exclusively for Discovery Park of America.

Know before you go

  • Consider the two-day pass. Rain the day of my visit kept me from exploring any of Discovery Park of America’s outdoor attractions. At a brisk pace, and glossing over whole areas, I spent four hours inside the Discovery Center. When I return with my family, we’ll no doubt opt for the two-day pass ($19.95 vs. $13.95 single-day admission for adults; $14.95 vs. $10.95 single-day admission for children ages 4-12; $16.95 vs. $11.95 single-day admission for seniors; children 3 and under admitted free of charge). Add the Earthquake Simulator, Starship Theater or a ride up the tower for $3.95 a la carte, or purchase the $9.95 combo to experience all three. A café onsite makes it easy to spend the day here.
  • A few notes on access/admission: Discovery Park of America is open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. daily except Mondays and major holidays. In winter, closing time moves up to 4 p.m. Annual memberships go on sale Oct. 21 ($50 per adult; $25 per child ages 4-12; children 3 and under admitted free of charge). At this point, Discovery Park of America is not participating in any reciprocal museum admission programs.
  • Make a weekend of it. Combine a day or two at Discovery Park of America with a visit to Reelfoot Lake State Park (30 minutes southwest) for a ready-made weekend getaway. To overnight, camp at the state park or consider one of the area’s lakefront lodges – we like Blue Bank Resort for its proximity to the state park, restaurant and ducks (pre-dinner entertainment for families).

I can’t wait to hear your impressions of Discovery Park of America – please share your highlights in the comments section below!

Hi! I’m Samantha Crespo, and I am Floridian by birth, Tennessean by heart. Growing up, I vacationed in East Tennessee, so I...Read on

TAGS: West TN

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    Patti Leeke

    We are so lucky to have the wonderful benefits that are available to us in this county of Obion. The Library, the Senior Center, the programs for our children all sponsored by citizen’s of Obion County. Now we have a wonderful attraction that will encourage our kids and grandkids to come home to visit and be highly entertained. We are truly blessed here.

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    teresa

    I am so excited and so.proud to have my Dad. Dale Calhoun. Reelfoot Lake. boat the Stumper jumper. displayed there. Dad would be so honored. Thanks to all

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    Vicki

    It is an amazing place. .so proud to have this in west Tennessee. .come see for yourself!

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    Becky Gookin

    Thanking Mr.& Mrs. Robert Kirkland for putting their hometown on “the map” with this exciting venue. We can see the tower from our backyard, literally, and are planning on visiting frequently. We are looking forward to a dinner event there on Nov. 9 that features Mr. Raphael Cruz (Tom Cruz’s Dad) and being part of the Dinosaur Hall scene!

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    Larry Brousseau

    Discovery Park has not opened yet but I had the pleasure of
    seeing some very interesting things there when I went to buy my season ticket. I plan on seeing much more when they open for the year.

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    Paul E. McNeal, Jr.

    Union City, TN is my city of birth. So I can not wait to visit Discovery Park of American (DPA).

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    Maggie

    Are you giving discounts for Tennessee educators?

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    angela glidewell

    I am amazed by the Discovery Park in itself and, also, the fact of it being located here in West Tennessee is profound. It offers such tremendous educational experiences in fun and exciting ways. I live in a nursing home here in West Tennessee so I probably won’t get to see it myself, but my son and my grandchildren will get to be astonished by the magic of Discovery Park. My hat’s off to Mr. Kirkland and all who had a hand in this venture!

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    Rita Winter

    I am rarely at a loss for words but Discovery Park of America has done it!!! The only words I can come up with to describe how I felt when I toured it are WOW!! WOW!! and WOW!! I can’t wait to go back and yes, I have already purchased my annual pass. Thank you, Rob and Jenny Kirkland and all who helped your dream come true!

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    Ed Cassetty, Mayor South Fulton, TN

    This is a must see place! It will impress young and old and all in between. Take it in in one day? Not possible! Two days? Good luck! Perhaps three visits or more would better fill the bill! Warning to parents: If you bring your children, better stay in touch by cell phone or radio or you may have difficulties in finding them afer you separate!

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    Danny Hussey

    This park will bring art and science to the minds of children that may have went entire lives without such an experience. I plan to support fully and continually.

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    Cheryl d smith

    I’m so glad that this part if tenn finally has something like this . I grew up in chaicago and went to museums all the time after we had children we made sure we went back to chigoe to take them to all the museums. This us great news

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    Connie Bond

    Discovery Park is truly an amazing work of art in West Tennessee! As an educator, I am excited for students who will have the opportunity to experience this magnificent
    venue. Discovery Park has gone the extra mile to pay attention to every detail and create an authentic masterpiece for all to enjoy! I encourage you to make a trip to Union City, Tennessee and experience a day of discovery for yourself. Enjoy!

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    Barthell Roberson

    I have often wondered why no one ever did anything with the wonders and beauty of Reelfoot Lake. Many years ago I met Jim Rippy though my cousin, Norma Roberson Hubbs. It always pleases me to see something about home. I will be back in Tiptonville next summer and I will make an effort to visit this wonder.

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    Donna Sweatman

    Dragonfly Inn Bed and Breakfast is a awesome place to stay for the night or weekend; furthermore, it’s less than one mile from Reelfoot Lake with a beautiful view and wonderful hosts.

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    Robert Davis

    Coming from Cincinnati Ohio to see whats all the fuss.

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    Eddie Anderson

    Our senior group at Church visited this wonderful park and everyone loved it ,I only wish we had gotten there early in the morning and stayed until late as far as we are concerned there are no negatives about this wonderful experience from being met at the door to our exit of the park.I would love to tell of all the things I personally love about the park but you’ll just have to see for yourself.I will return God willing.

  1. Pingback: SPACE & FLIGHT MONTH LAUNCHES THIS JANUARY AT DISCOVERY PARK OF AMERICA | Tennessee Triptales

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    please no name

    The place looks awesome from the outside but being on a fixed income our family will not be able to enjoy this wonderful place, cost just a little outside our budget for each person. I am glad something like this is around for others to enjoy.

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