If you’ve driven by the Discovery Park of America parking lot in Union City this January, you have no doubt seen the cars filling the parking lot. Visitors from around the country have been taking advantage of the opportunity for children under the age of 17 to visit for free.

School groups have been especially excited about the unique offer. In Jan. 2019, two school groups visited the park. As of Monday, more than 110 school groups had visited or scheduled a visit to take place by the end of the month.

With only two open days remaining in Jan. 2020, over 15,500 guests have passed through the front doors compared to 3,700 in Jan. 2019.

The jump in visitors is because Magnolia Place Assisted Living in Union City sponsored free admission for all children 17 and younger in January as a way to pay tribute to and memorialize Jenny Kirkland. Kirkland, who died in Aug. 2019, was married to the museum and park’s founder, Robert Kirkland, and continued to play an active role in the organization since his death in 2015.

“Education was one of the biggest passions of Robert and Jenny Kirkland,” said David Johnson, administrator of Magnolia Place. “Our board saw this as a way we could honor Mrs. Kirkland while helping even more young people have an opportunity to visit the museum and park she and her family founded. We’re so excited it has gone so well.”

While at Discovery Park, many guests took advantage of the opportunity to check out the new temporary exhibit, “Astronaut,” now on display. So many more guests wanted to experience blasting off into space than expected, that additional staff were needed.

Included among the groups on Monday were more than 500 students from Ripley Middle School who did not receive any disciplinary referrals to the principal’s office for the second nine weeks.

“I’m certain their good behavior will continue as they experience all that Discovery Park has to offer,” said Cindy Anderson, principal of Ripley Middle School. “To have an attraction like this in West Tennessee without having to travel to Memphis provides a unique opportunity for our rural community. As a parent, grandparent and educator, Discovery Park has provided many wonderful experiences and memories for my family and students.”

“When you’re here and the parking lot is overflowing and the museum and park are packed with guests, it energizes all of us,” said Scott Williams, Discovery Park president and CEO. “This month, we’ve had the additional benefit of welcoming many children, adults and school groups for whom this is a first-time visit. And of course, they are enjoying every minute they are here. We’re all so grateful to Magnolia Place for this unique gift.”

Tickets will be available for the final two days of the special offer at the Discovery Park of America ticket counter Jan. 30 and 31, 2020. Student groups must be arranged in advance by calling 731-885-5455 or emailing reservations@discoveryparkofamerica.com.