What does an earthquake simulator, a 20,000-gallon freshwater aquarium, a working gristmill and a 110-foot-tall missile have in common? They’re all part of the 50-acre Discovery Park of America campus in Union City, a jaw-dropping student attraction in rural Tennessee.
“We are often told by educators and students that Discovery Park greatly exceeded their expectations,” said Mary Nita Bondurant, director of marketing at Discovery Park of America. “We are kind of like a miniature Smithsonian, and I don’t think most people understand how unique Discovery Park is in its diverse offerings and interactive experiences.”
The park opened in 2013, thanks to a more than $100 million donation from the late entrepreneur and philanthropist Robert Kirkland and his wife Jenny. Discovery Park of America is the result of the Kirklands’ decade-long vision to bring the world to the children of Union City.
“Our founder never wanted us to call it a ‘museum,’ as he thought that made people think of a stuffy, hands-off kind of experience,” Bondurant said. “Discovery Park of America is very hands-on, while still having many qualities of a museum, but the fun vibe of a theme park. Around every corner there’s a unique experience, like the Giant Human Slide that transports students from one floor to the another, the opportunity to crawl inside our aquarium and the opportunity to sit in a Vietnam War-era helicopter.”
The 100,000-square-foot Discovery Center building includes exhibits that showcase dinosaurs, Native American artifacts, military equipment and vintage automobiles. Outdoors, students find 14 log cabins; a working gristmill; a reconstructed, early-1900s main street; and a vintage train station, complete with a locomotive, rail cars and a depot.
“While off the beaten path, the park gives visitors a learning experience unlike any other, without the hassle of city traffic,” Bondurant said. “With one entrance and one exit, it feels so safe, and educators can allow their students some space to explore and learn.”
For more information, call 731-885-5455 or visit discoveryparkofamerica.com.