Discovery Park offers Dyersburg first glimpse of educational complex

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Imagine a place where you can climb a 50-foot replica of a human and slide down its left leg. How about a place where you can see holographic representations of Native Americans and learn about their culture? Imagine a place where you can stand next to 12 life-sized dinosaur replicas. Or perhaps a place that contains a full-size projection globe that can give real-time weather information for anywhere in the world and can be reprogrammed to the climate of other planets. In short, imagine a place where your imagination can run wild and where you will be able to see beyond your small corner of the world. Northwest Tennessee residents won't have to imagine for too much longer as Discovery Park of America in Union City will contain all this and much more, living up to the park's mission of enhancing children and adults' educational experiences, to inspire them to reach their full potential.

In a special media-only presentation on Thursday afternoon at First State Bank, members of the State Gazette were given a sneak peak at the 50-acre, 100,000-square-foot facility scheduled to open on Nov. 1 of this year. Larry Snider, director of communications and development for Discovery Park led the approximate 35-minute presentation where a brief history of the park was shared and many of the "wow" factors for the facility were discussed.

Representatives from Discovery Park visited Dyersburg on Thursday evening during a Chamber of Commerce After Hours Event held at First State Bank. The event was the first glimpse Dyersburg residents have had of the 100,000-square-foot facility being built in Union City. From left, Director of Communications and Development Larry Snider, President/CEO Jim Rippy, Martha Rippy, Jenny Kirkland, Robert Kirkland, Marketing Director Mary Nita Bondurant and Events Director Melissa Caldwell.

The facility inside is divided into nine exhibit galleries: Energy, Children's Exploration, Natural History, Native Americans, Regional History, Science/Space/Technology, Transportation, Enlightenment and Military. The galleries were decided upon after more than 250 volunteers made up of educators, professionals and city leaders came together to provide input on what the multimillion-dollar facility should look like inside.

"This has been a work in progress from the very beginning," founder Robert Kirkland would say later on in the evening.

Kirkland and his wife, Jenny, have provided $78 million in funding for the project through the Kirkland Foundation and other organizations such as First State Bank, the National Smithsonian Institution and the University of Tennessee at Martin have joined in to also provide funding. The Kirklands have pledged an additional $2 million to $3 million each year for operational expenses with at least $1 million to be set aside to expand and grow Discovery Park. However, the park is busy marketing itself and hopes residents will consider it for a variety of special events such as reunions, weddings and holiday special events.

The facility will boast 60,000 square feet of exhibits but the exterior is receiving just as much attention as the interior beginning with the facility's unusual design, which has piqued many individuals' curiosity. Kirkland said the unique design is intentional to give the park national exposure. The building features a 120-foot observation tower with a flagpole that increases its height to nearly 200 feet. Outside the park features several themed gardens, an amphitheatre that can accommodate outdoor events, settlement structures and flowing water that stretches from one end of the property to the other.

When Snider was asked to describe the park, he said the best way he could describe it was that it was a little bit of Disney World and a little bit of the Smithsonian Institution rolled into one.

From left, Discovery Park Events Director Melissa Caldwell, State Gazette Editor Jason Cannon, State Gazette Gotcha! Account Executive Kim Rambo, State Gazette Advertising Director Charles Dawson and State Gazette Advertising Representative Tammy Kimbrell listen in on Thursday evening to a media presentation given by Larry Snider, director of communications and development for Discovery Park.

The park hopes to attract at least 150,000 visitors a year to our small corner of the state with Marketing Director Mary Nita Bondurant commenting that the biggest draws will be from residents who live within a three- to four-hour radius of the park. Snider added that the park's education mission also lends itself to field trips from schools in the area and as far away as Memphis and St. Louis, Mo. According to Snider, curriculums have been set up in history and the sciences with collaborations from local educators, in order to facilitate learning outside the classroom.

"We believe this facility will be an incredible asset for educational institutions," said Snider.

So what would a day trip to Discover Park cost the average resident?

One-day tickets start at $13.95 but Bondurant suggested that Dyersburg residents might be more interested in an unlimited access pass. For $50 a year, residents ages 14 and up can come back to the park as many times as they please. Kids ages 4 to 13 can purchase an unlimited access pass for the year for just $25. Children 3 and under can enjoy the park for free. It is quite a deal that pays for itself in just four visits and according to Snider most individuals will need at least two visits to see everything. In addition, the Smithsonian Institution's partnership with Discovery Park will allow for temporary and traveling exhibits with the first one scheduled to arrive July 1, 2014.

For more information on Discovery Park please visit www.discoveryparkofamerica.com.

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  • Holographic representations of Native Americans? Are they aware actual Native Americans still exist? I don't see them putting in a holographic representation of an African-American so it can teach us what it was like to pick all that cotton.

    -- Posted by A Touch of Reality on Sun, Jul 14, 2013, at 1:57 AM
  • IF YOU WOULD READ, THEY ARE STILL EXPANDING. INSTEAD OF SAYING ALL OF THAT ATTEND SOME MEETINGS AT THE CITY HALL AND MAKE SOME SUGGESTIONS FOR SOMETHING LIKE THIS IN DYER COUNTY, INSTEAD OF COMPLAINING WHILE THEY SPEND ALL OF THE MONEY ON DOWNTOWN. IT'S ABOUT NATIVE AMERICANS NOW BECAUSE REELFOOT LAKE IS THERE DUMMY, AND THAT TEACHES WHY & HOW THE LAKE WAS FORMED AND NAMED AS SUCH. I'VE BEEN ON MY WAY TO KY., AND MY FAMILY AND I KNEW THAT THIS STRUCTURE WOULD BE SOMETHING MAJOR, WE JUST THOUGHT A WATER PARK.

    -- Posted by WTF HAPPENED HERE on Mon, Jul 15, 2013, at 9:06 AM
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