Founded in 1973 as a Girl Scout project, the Children's Museum of Oak Ridge first opened inside Jefferson Junior High School with little more than 2,000 square feet of rented space to its name. After a meteoric rise in popularity, the museum moved to its current 54,000-square-foot facility, which brims with more than 20 educational and interactive exhibits designed to help children learn and grow.
Kids and parents can explore a simulated Amazonian rainforest, which reverberates with jungle sounds in air thick and heavy with moisture from the running waterfall. Little tykes become little tycoons in the World of Trains, which features a full-size Norfolk Southern caboose and a hands-on playroom where kids adopt the role of conductor, steering tiny locomotives and apologizing to their peers when their toy train doesn’t arrive on schedule. Otherwise, they can educate themselves on the history of playthings with some of the most impressive and entertaining gizmos from the museum's collection in the Century of Toys exhibit. Static exhibits aren't all the venue has to offer; the staff often organizes events such as performances by storytellers and controlled playtime with live monkeys.
As they enter the training circle at Curves, female guests come face-to-face with the smiles of other women. And just as points on a circle share a common distance from the circle's center, workout participants share the experiences of those nearby by trading stations throughout the 30-minute training session. One minute is spent on a piece of strength-training equipment built for feminine frames and designed to work two opposing muscle groups with a single movement. Exercisers then move on to a recovery station, where they run, jog, or dance to maintain heart rates and keep platforms in place during momentary losses of gravity.
Thirty-two lanes with electronic scoring conduct a thunderous symphony of crashing pins and cheers of victory at Oak Ridge Bowling Center. After completing frames, bowlers mingle in Spare Time Lounge to toss darts or watch sports on one of three LCD TVs. Hungry guests can grab a table and a burger at Ten Pin Grille, while gamers test hand-eye-coordination at billiards, skee ball, and air hockey tables in the arcade. Organized league play and private parties are offered as well.
Mobile Tactics Laser Tag transforms its customers' yards into competitive fields. Their staff travels onsite and sets up outdoor bunkers and inflatable cover. Then, they hand out laser-tag equipment to birthday-party guests. Competition starts, and lasers soar invisibly through the air during games such as capture the flag and team elimination.
The Dark Alley Haunted House reveals Oak Ridge's most gruesome side, all for the sake of raising funds for 13 different charitable causes. Behind the Oak Ridge Bowling Center lies a portal to another realm, where those brave enough to venture inside will come face-to-face with their greatest fears. To make it back home, they'll have to grope their way through two stories of scares totaling 22,000 square feet, navigating terrifying twists and turns, and stifling screams at the sight of a sinister farmer doomed to wear overalls for all eternity. Groups that make it out alive can replenish sapped strength by wrapping shaky hands around snacks such as sodas and popcorn, which will be available for sale.
Scouring the back roads of Southern Appalachia, John Rice Irwin amassed thousands of historic artifacts before opening the Museum of Appalachia in 1969. A Smithsonian Institute affiliate since 2007, the 501-(c)3 museum now consists of more than 30 historic structures that recreate an Appalachian village, complete with farm animals and gardens flanked by split-rail fences. Along with two large exhibition halls, the museum's pioneer buildings house an extensive collection, which ranges from Appalachian baskets and quilts to folk art and toys.
Elsewhere, rustic paths wind through pastoral sites, a Hall of Fame honors Appalachian notables, and live musicians play old-time Appalachian tunes. In addition to weddings, the museum's grounds host several events throughout the year, including Tennessee Fall Homecoming, Sheep-Shearing Day, Days of the Pioneer Anitque Show, and an anvil shoot every Fourth of July.