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Celebrating 10 Years of Discovery Park of America

discovery park

Episode 19: Pocket Change Podcast

The Discovery Park of America is a staple of West Tennessee and has helped numerous people discovery what they want to do in their future careers and experience something new around every corner. In this episode of Pocket Change Podcast, Shea and Maddie sat down with Scott Williams, the president of Discovery Park of America, located in Union City, Tennessee. With the park's 10th anniversary on the horizon, this conversation was an opportunity to talk about the park's history, its mission, and the exciting developments in store for visitors.

“It's filled with interactive experiences that are fun for both children and adults. So the business that we're in is the inspiration business. We inspire children and adults to see beyond. And so I think the best metaphor for that is a lot of times people will arrive, children and adults will arrive at Discovery Park and they'll see their very first escalator,” Scott said. 


Summary

The Discovery Park’s roots trace back to a visionary named Robert Kirkland, who initiated the idea of a "center of education" in West Tennessee. Kirkland's goal was to create a unique educational experience, blending fun with learning. The park sits on 50 acres and boasts a 100,000-square-foot, three-story museum filled with interactive exhibits. Discovery Park of America strives to inspire both children and adults to explore, learn, and think beyond their current horizons.

Discovery Park's location in Union City, may seem unconventional from a business perspective, but it's deeply rooted in the founder's love for the local community. The drive to the park is part of the experience, offering visitors a scenic route through the beautiful West Tennessee countryside.

On November 4th, 2023, Discovery Park of America will celebrate its 10th anniversary with a birthday bash. The celebration will feature live music, a time capsule ceremony, a documentary premiere, and free cupcakes. As a special offer, admission for the celebration day will be just $10.

Scott Williams hosts the "Reelfoot Forward" podcast, which explores inspiring stories of individuals and initiatives in West Tennessee. The podcast aligns with Discovery Park's mission to inspire and educate, and listeners can find the podcast on all major podcast platforms or directly on the Discovery Park of America website.

 


Key Takeaways

  • Discovery Park of America, a remarkable educational and recreational institution in West Tennessee, is celebrating a decade of inspiring countless individuals to explore, learn, and dream big.

  • The mission of Discovery Park of America is to help children and adult to “see beyond.”

  • Discovery Park attracts visitors not only from the immediate vicinity but also from a broader regional and international audience.

  • Don’t miss the 10th anniversary birthday celebration on November 4th, 2023.

  • Discovery Park is constantly evolving to offer new and engaging experiences. Two new greenhouses are set to open, allowing for education and plant growth for the park's stunning landscape.

You can visit Discovery Park of America by going to their website or their social media, and you can listen to Scott's podcast, "ReelFoot Forward" on any podcast platform



 

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Full Transcript

Shea:

Hey, this is Shea

 

Maddie:

and this is Maddie.

 

Shea:

Welcome to the Pocket Change podcast.

 

Maddie:

Where you'll learn better ways to spend, save, and invest and take control of your financial journey.

 

Shea:

You know, Maddie, West Tennessee is full of a rich history. There's so many things to do that attract tourists to this area, to West Tennessee. And we want to talk about one of them today. Discovery Park of America.

 

Maddie:

Yeah. And I'm really excited to hear a little bit more about the history and also because their 10th anniversary is coming up, so we get to celebrate that. So we're excited to welcome our guest, Scott Williams, who is president of Discovery Park of America, to Pocket Change today. Welcome to Pocket Change, Scott.

 

Scott Williams:

Thank you for having me. It's great to be here.

 

Maddie:

Yeah. So first, just tell us a little about yourself and also how you got involved in Discovery Park.

 

Scott Williams:

Sure. Absolutely. So I am a Memphian. I was born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee. My family, however, both sides, my mom's side and my dad's side is from Haywood County. So Brownsville, Tennessee. And we started off there in 1833 when a group of about 20 families settled in Brownsville. And both sides of my family come out of that group of people.

 

So my mom and dad were the first to leave. My dad played basketball for UT Martin, and my mom moved to Memphis to work at Plough, which was a big, big company, a big Memphis company back then. And my mom's claim to fame was she participated in a contest to name a new product that they had, and she won by naming Coppertone, which was a sunscreen.

 

So anyway, I'm a lifelong Memphian, went to the University of Memphis, graduated with a degree in journalism, with a concentration in advertising, and so worked in a lot of different ad agencies in Memphis, worked for all different types of companies in marketing and public relations. I ended up landing at Graceland at Elvis Presley Enterprises. You know, where I answered an ad in the paper and they were looking for somebody who could sort of take Elvis digital.

 

And so I had worked in the digital space and had worked in online, getting a lot of startups going, and it seemed like a fun job. And so I ended up being there 12 years. Loved the tourism business. Loved the museum business. Eventually, we did an exhibit on Elvis at the Newseum in Washington, D.C., which was the Museum of the News and the First Amendment, and just fell in love with the people there.

 

I love history and ended up, as I say, Elvis left the building and I didn’t. And so I stayed there for seven years, but I never got over being homesick for West Tennessee. And a job opened up in Union City at Discovery Park of America, and they asked me if I wanted to come on board. And I did, and that was five years ago.

 

So it's been an incredible ride.

 

Maddie:

So what is your favorite thing about the tourism business and industry and why have you stayed in it for so long?

 

Scott Williams:

Sure. The thing that I think is the most rewarding about the hospitality business and tourism is honestly the people that work in it. People go into that business because typically they're probably extroverts, they enjoy hosting people and they love parties and they love showing people a fun time and a good experience. And so it's just the people that you meet and the friendships that you make when you work in the hospitality and in the tourism business, you know, like for example, in Tennessee, you become lifelong friends with the people that you work with.

 

So the folks that manage attractions and hotels and restaurants in East Tennessee and Middle Tennessee and West Tennessee, we're all good friends. We all connect and we all share in our unified goals to get more people to visit our great state. Tennessee is, you know, a great state to be doing tourism in because of all the attractions that we have.

 

And all the different experiences you can have in our state. Those of us that have driven across know that it feels like about six states when you're driving from one end to the other. But, you know, it is a wonderful, wonderful business to be in. And, you know, if you like, travel and you like parties and you like being around people, then tourism and hospitality is a blast.

 

Shea:

Sounds like fun. And so Discovery Park of America is fun, but how would you describe someone who's not familiar with Discovery Park? What is it?

 

Scott Williams:

You would almost have to...when I describe what Discovery Park is, I have to go back to its genesis, which is Robert Kirkland, who started Kirkland Stores. He had a vision for a center of education, is what he called it. And so he put an ad in the paper that said, I want to start a center of education.

 

If you want to join me, meet me at the library on this date at this time, and we'll do it together. And so, of course, he had no idea five people were going to come or ten. Well, 250 people showed up that night and he divided the room up into sections science, technology, space, art, theater. And he said, go to the table that you're the most interested in.

 

And so people got up and shuffled around and went to the table wondering, you know, what is he going to say. And he said, you are now the committees. I want your committee to meet and to come back to me with what you think would go in a center of education, but in a fun way in your topic.

 

And so they met and they then brought him all this content and he took that to a group of museum professionals that he had assembled. And so they then work to come up with Discovery Park. Initially, he had planned to spend about $35 million and he spent more than $100 million. It's a 50 acre heritage park with 100,000 square foot, three story museum sitting on it.

 

And it's filled with interactive experiences that are fun for both children and adults. So the business that we're in is the inspiration business. We inspire children and adults to see beyond. And so I think the best metaphor for that is a lot of times people will arrive, children and adults will arrive at Discovery Park and they'll see their very first escalator.

 

So if you haven't been to a mall or you don't go to the airport, you probably haven't seen a lot of escalators. And so you see that and you see how excited people are to see it for the first time. And then you'll notice that our escalators and our elevators are all in glass so that they'll see how they work.

 

And you can really see young people studying how it works. Hopefully we're triggering inspiration for a future engineer or designer or builder of some sort. So the way I described, to answer your question, the way I describe it is, you know, it's a big, huge inspiration for people who get to visit from around not just West Tennessee. We get more people from 2 hours away than we get from 20 minutes away.

 

So really people literally from around the world.

 

Shea:

Well, it's amazing just the size of the park. And not only the inside, but the whole, like you said, 50 acres that it's on with all of the different attractions, which we'll talk about, too. But this is amazing. That's right here in West Tennessee that we can go explore and discover. And it is true as an adult that's taking my younger niece and nephew like it's fun for us too, as adults and kids.

 

So it's just kind of an all encompassing park that can cater to really all the different ages.

 

Scott Williams:

And the beauty of Discovery Park is it really makes no sense from a business perspective. From a pocket change perspective, it really makes no sense. If you were to do a business analysis, you would probably say, “No, I'm going to put it in Jackson or I'm going to put it in Memphis or Nashville”, you know, but Robert Kirkland put it in Union City specifically because he loved his community.

 

And so the byproduct of that is when you come with your family, if you come from Jackson or Memphis or Nashville or Paducah, almost driving there almost helps part of the experience because it helps depressurize you getting out of your hometown, getting out of the city, even if you're just coming for the day, a short drive through the countryside, it's absolutely beautiful.

 

It looks almost like you're in California sometimes, depending on the time of the year. And then when you come around the corner and see Discovery Park there, it looks like a huge castle.

 

Shea:

Yeah, it stands out.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah, it's an experience. The drive there kind of helps set the tone for the experience. And I mean, people are aghast when they arrive. And oftentimes I'll get called up to talk to people. They'll want to talk to somebody because they'll say, this makes no sense. Can somebody explain this to me and so they'll have me come up and explain it to them.

 

And, you know, the other thing is we do get cards and letters from people who, now that we're celebrating our 10th birthday, we get cards and letters from people who Discovery Park absolutely changed their life, influenced them on where they were going to go to college and what they majored in and and things like that. So it's really fun to be able to look now and see the difference that we're making in people's lives.

 

Maddie:

Yeah, and I love what you're saying there. It's so much deeper than just a tourism spot for people to stop and look. You're hoping that it's going to make a deeper impact in people's lives and, you know, inspire them to be engineers or pick a different career, whatever. You know, that's really the goal. And so I love it.

 

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah. And that's what Robert Kirkland...that was his vision. As someone in the import export business, he got to travel around the world so he would go somewhere and find something and say, I'm going to reproduce this and sell it to Middle America. And so he would have it produced in China. And, you know, he knew how- he knew what people wanted.

 

And so he applied that to Discovery Park. So he knew and he also knew that if if you could experience things unusual and unique and things from around the world, it would change your life. And so he absolutely wanted to create the experience of travel right in West Tennessee's backyard. And we're in a convenient space right there in the corner of the state near Arkansas, near Missouri, you know, we're very much....

 

Shea:

That’s a hub people can come to.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah, we are right there where we draw people in from all over.

 

Maddie:

Can you tell us kind of what is your favorite place in the park?

 

Scott Williams:

You know, my favorite place at Discovery Park is typically where ever we are working on right now. I love the things that we add and the things that are new. I love the trains. Robert Kirkland wanted a complete train. He wanted engine, caboose, all the cars, and they told him, you know, hey, you know, we've looked, you know, we're not going to be able to afford to get a whole train, you know.

 

And he said, I don't think you heard me. I want a whole train. And so they said, Yes, sir, we will get you a whole train. And they found one.

 

Shea:

They've got all the cars on the property?

 

Scott Williams:

Yes. They found one in Pigeon Forge that was in storage and it was from Norway. And so all the writing on it is Norwegian and it's from the seventies. So it's sort of an Austin Powers kind of train. So it's super groovy and you know, the color schemes and the way it- but then we also have the locomotive and they have the caboose.

 

And so, you know, it's just amazing to be able to walk through. Something about the train. I just love going over there and walking through it. I also like the chapel a lot. It's a church that was out in the woods and it was brought in and put back together again, piece by piece. And with the stained glass windows and we play a recording that was taken live of a little church out in the woods, and we just loop that and play it.

 

So it's really kind of gives you a good 1940s, you know, going to visit your grandma and grandpa church kind of feeling, you know. So I really like that as well.

 

Shea:

And those fans.

 

Scott Williams:

Exactly, exactly. It gives you a real authentic experience and you know, you can pull the bell and make it ring. So we always look for interactive things like that.

 

Maddie:

So we know that the park is celebrating its 10th anniversary soon.

 

Scott Williams:

And you guys are a big part of that. Thank you! We're very grateful that y'all are part of our big birthday celebration.

 

Maddie:

Yeah. So at that big birthday celebration, kind of tell us how people can get involved and just how they can get more information about that celebration.

 

Scott Williams:

It's a great... they should first of all, you know, make sure you're signed up for our e-newsletters and following us on social media so you'll know as news breaks, as information comes out. We're going to have a lot of live music. Everybody had said, wouldn't it have been nice if back then ten years ago, they had planted a time capsule and we could dig it up on the 10th birthday?

 

So what we're going to do is put a time capsule in the ground and intend to dig it up on the 50th birthday. So forty years from now. So we're going to let people,

 

Shea:

Making up for it!

 

Scott Williams:

you know, contribute to that. And so, you know, we're going to have a little ceremony where we bury that. We've been doing a little documentary with people who were around ten years ago when it first started. And so we're going to be premiering that and we'll have free cupcakes and some surprises and things like that.

 

So it's going to be a lot of fun. I'm really excited. Ten years. It's been an interesting ten years. Discovery Park's evolved a lot over the course of ten years because it was something that nobody...no one who started Discovery Park was in the museum business necessarily. So the Kirkland's weren't the folks that were there that day, you know, so maybe a few people, you know, were from the museum business, but the vast majority.

 

So they had to try to figure out what is this tool that we're going to use to change people's lives. And so it's been a fun evolution and we have a remarkable number of people that are still there from ten years ago that, you know, and so passionate. You won't find any place else where, other than here at Leaders, where people are as passionate about the work they do.

 

Shea:

And so it's on November 4th, right? Saturday, November 4th is the big birthday bash, birthday event. And so live music, different activities going on...

 

Scott Williams:

Cupcakes. You can't go wrong with cupcakes!

 

Shea:

Free cupcakes at the celebration. And then is there any special with the admission that day?

 

Scott Williams:

Yes, but I don't remember what it is. I think it's like kids free. Maybe? I don't remember. Just you can find it out on the website. Oh, wait a minute. I know. I think it's like $10 admission.

 

Shea:

Is it $10? I wanted to mention that if...

 

Scott Williams:

Let’s just decide.

 

Maddie:

Let’s just decide right now.

 

Scott Williams:

You guys are our partners, so you can contribute to that. Do you want to do $10 admission that day? You decide. What do you think?

 

Maddie:

I don't have that authority.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah, sure you do! You’re the podcast hostess.

 

Maddie:

Sure, yeah $10. $10 sounds great.

 

Scott Williams:

Okay. You heard it here first. $10 admission. That's a great deal. And free cupcakes. You can not beat that.

 

Maddie:

And a time capsule.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah. So when we promote our podcast here, you can actually say news will be breaking on this episode of the podcast.

 

Shea:

So, Scott, are there any new exhibits or any new things coming to Discovery Park in the future?

 

Scott Williams:

There are constantly new things coming. Now, we have to balance the new things. You know, surprisingly, a lot of people return to Discovery Park, so we just did a survey this summer of people as they were leaving. And one of the questions was how many times have you visited and every museum have worked with or partnered with, you know, typically 80% of the people being first time visitors is normal.

 

But for us, it was only about 60% were first time visitors, and the majority people had been there 12 times or more. And that's really unheard of.

 

Shea:

That’s like once a month. Going to the Discovery Park.

 

Scott Williams:

So people are clearly enjoying their visit. So we do try to keep new things, a couple of new things coming up that I'm really excited about. So Discovery Park, as I mentioned, is 50 acres. So for people who have not been there, it's two big bodies of water on the property and then a manmade, meandering lake that kind of goes through a river, sorry, a river that goes through.

 

And then as we were talking about earlier, you can fish. There's lots of really big fish in there. And people can come and fish if they have... they have to get a Tennessee license online if they're 12 or younger. But then beautiful grounds, I mean, heavily landscaped. Robert Kirkland had a vision for how he wanted it to be.

 

He wanted Augusta. It was what he said. He wanted it to be pristine. And so our grounds crew is very talented. It is truly beautiful. John Watkins is our grounds director. And he has constantly been, for the five years I've been there, he's been wanting to get a greenhouse. And so we opening up our two new greenhouses.

 

One is going to be for education purposes and one is going to be to grow the plants that we actually put at Discovery Park. And then we have an education pavilion that's going to be part of the whole thing. So we're opening that up in a couple of weeks and that's exciting. And then we have a new exhibit coming on November the 11th, which is called Duck, Duck Goose:

 

Waterfowl of the Mississippi Flyway, and we're doing that with Ducks Unlimited and it's going to be- the topic of that exhibit is how duck hunting or waterfowl hunting and conservation intersect. What do the two have to do with each other? You know, how does going duck hunting contribute to conserving waterfowl?

 

Shea:

Well that’s huge up there in the Reelfoot Lake area.

 

Scott Williams:

Exactly.

 

Shea:

Hunting and everything.

 

Scott Williams:

That’s right. We’re right there by Reelfoot Lake.

 

Shea:

So that should attract all that area.

 

Scott Williams:

So it'll be in a nice enhancement. We've fundraised for it. We got people to contribute and we raised $1.1 million to build this exhibit. So it's going to be stunning. Probably one of the best exhibits that you'll find in this whole region.

 

Shea:

So that's indoors? Inside?

 

Scott Williams:

It's inside and out. So we actually have a group of duck hunters who've come and they're building a Reelfoot Lake style duck blind on our water. And we're not going to let people shoot ducks because we do have some ducks. But you can't shoot at Discovery Park. You can fish, but you can't hunt. And so we've got that.

 

And also a big inside. There's a Ducks Unlimited very cool, up to date modern theater. It's going to show a really cool video and so a lot of really neat things with that. So we're really excited about that. And then in October, we're also having a Native American powwow, which is going to be really cool. So we're really excited about that too.

 

Native Americans from all over the United States are coming in to compete in a lot of different categories. So that's going to be cool.

 

Shea:

Something for everybody.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah. I mean, honestly, sign up for our e-newsletters and get on our Facebook page. I mean, there is always something happening at Discovery Park. There's always something to discover at Discovery Park.

 

Shea:

There you go! Always something to discover. To be inspired by.

 

Scott Williams:

Exactly.

 

Shea:

And that's why we have this podcast to discover the things, tips about finances or things happening in the community like our birthday bash and all that Discovery Park offers. So hey, it's a win win.

 

Maddie:

Okay, Scott, so we know that you have a podcast of your own, so give us a little bit more information and to our listeners how they can find that and what maybe they would hear on your podcast.

 

Shea:

And do you need guests? I mean...

 

Scott Williams:

Absolutely, Yeah. We will return the favor. So our podcast is called Reelfoot Forward: A West Tennessee podcast. You know, a play on Reelfoot Lake. You saw what we did there. Our podcast is sort of a living embodiment of what our mission is. And so we look for people who are inspiring children and adults to see beyond no matter what they're doing.

 

So maybe they're in tourism or, you know, we talk to people who had a difficulty in life and they overcame it, or people who are doing great mission-oriented work out there in the community, people who are making a difference in whatever field they are. We typically are looking for people from this region, and we typically look for people who are from rural areas who are working, you know, not in the cities and in the rural areas.

You know, there's a lot of- there are a lot more resources when you live in the city than when you live in the country. And so we try to provide resources that people can hear and learn more about the cool things that people living in rural areas are doing. A lot of artists, you know, a lot of chefs, a lot of people doing creative work, a lot of people in touch with their artistic side and things like that.

 

So at the end of the day, we do this to get people to visit Discovery Park of America. And so, you know, we do have people come because they've heard things on the podcast. I also get stopped by people who say, Hey, I wanted to ask you a question about this. One thing this person said on the podcast.

 

So we do know that it is an interesting extension of what we do at Discovery Park. And people do listen and people do ask questions and and it is changing people's lives as well. People who have been on the podcast say, Oh, I had a lot of people contact me afterwards. So yes, it's been a fun, it's been a fun way for us to be able to just jump right into media without necessarily having somebody in between us and our audience.

 

Shea:

I think that's what we're trying to do on our podcast too. Highlight those community champions making a difference, but also other things that really inspire others and get people to West Tennessee and involved in our community. And so I think Discovery Park does a great job of that. Reelfoot Forward Podcast. You can find that on any podcast platform.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah. All of them.

 

Shea:

All podcast platforms. Is it on your website?

 

Scott Williams:

If you don’t listen to podcasts, you can just go to our website and you can just listen to it there.

 

Shea:

Is that discoveryparkofamerica.com ?

 

Scott Williams:

discoveryparkofamerica.com is our website.

 

Shea:

That's their website site. And it’s the Reelfoot Forward Podcast. Take a listen to that one. After you listen to the Pocket Change podcast and we'll both be inspiring people all over West Tennessee and beyond.

 

 

Scott Williams:

Exactly.

 

Shea:

We have a fun question that we ask toward the end of our podcast. We wanted to throw this one at you. But, this is the Pocket Change podcast. So if you had some extra change in your pocket, what would you spend it on?

 

Scott Williams:

I mean, to be honest, if I had extra change in my pocket, I have a jar in the laundry room and I would put it in there because it's got like that much money in it. I shouldn't say that publicly, should I? I might get robbed, but I have like that much. There's that much. How much, how much change is that?

 

How much money is that you think? That much change.

 

Shea:

50 bucks

 

Scott Williams:

So I would throw it in there, but if I was going to buy something, I would probably buy books. I love books. And so my wife and I have way too many books and we just built a house and we put a lot of bookshelves in it.

 

And so we have tons and tons of books in there. It kind of smells like a library the other day. I was a little worried.

 

Maddie:

Hey, that's a good smell.

 

Scott Williams:

I was like, oh no, we didn't think of that, you know? But anyway, I don't want to be known as the couple that smells like a librarian. But still, it's very cool. And like, sometimes I'll just be like, I'm just going to read one paragraph and I walk down the hall and pull a book and read a paragraph and then keep going.

 

Shea:

Maybe you could buy a little air freshener.

 

Scott Williams:

We definitely do. That's a great idea. Or some baking powder. We could buy that too with our pocket change.

 

 

Shea:

So plenty of ideas with your pocket change.

 

Scott Williams:

Lots of ideas.

 

Shea:

Buy a book or buy a ticket to Discovery Park and go check out the park.

 

Scott Williams:

And that's what I'm hoping other people would say they will do with their pocket change, and hopefully it'll add up to $10 and they can come on our anniversary.

 

Maddie:

Big anniversary event!

 

Shea:

November 4th.

 

Scott Williams:

Now, I didn’t ask. You guys, I'm assuming, will be there as well.

 

Shea:

Yeah, we’re celebrating!

 

Scott Williams:

Y’all will have a booth set up. Y'all have done a lot of our events at Discovery Park and you always bring very cool things like this pair of socks.

 

Shea:

If you’re watching, check out Scott’s socks.

 

Maddie:

Aww the Leaders socks! Watch on YouTube.

 

Scott Williams:

Yeah. From you guys. And I've been waiting for the perfect opportunity to wear them.

 

Maddie:

This is the perfect opportunity.

 

Scott Williams:

This was it!

 

Shea:

We’ll need to get some Discovery Park socks after this.

 

Scott Williams:

I will provide you both with some so you can wear them that day. On the birthday!

 

Shea:

Perfect! Well we can't wait. November 4th, is our birthday bash. The Discovery Park birthday bash. Celebrating 10th anniversary.

 

Scott Williams:

$10 admission.

 

Shea:

There you go.

 

Maddie:

Well, thank you so much for being here, Scott. We really enjoyed having you on Pocket Change.

 

Scott Williams:

Thank you for having me. It was a lot of fun.

 

 

 


 

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