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.
At Wheat Union Station, volunteers restore and maintain the Southern Appalachia Railway Museum's four diesel engines. Authentically outfitted conductors and staff keep one shiny shoe firmly in the past as air-conditioned coach cars and an open-air baggage car rumble past Poplar Creek, Watts Bar Lake, and Highway 327. The museum conducts seasonal rides and theme rides, including dinner trains and murder mysteries. Secret City Scenic Excursion train rides chug along rail lines that stretch out from K-25, a site of World War II's Manhattan Project.
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.
A two-day spree of exhibits and performances, this year's Secret City Festival hosts outdoor concerts featuring Village People and Ricky Skaggs. Disco-era icons Village People perform spirited hits such as "Macho Man" and "YMCA," which have instigated more dance-offs than gang violence and British Parliamentary debates combined. Village People follow funky rock n' rollers Dishwater Blonde, a regional act that lays down agreeable grooves.
Packard’s Games and Movies fuels friendly competition and hours of virtual entertainment with an eclectic abundance of gently used media. Gamers can fire up current consoles with a collection of used games, such as Halo 3 ($9.99) and Fable II ($7.99), which carry the ghosts of past triumphs to challenge their new owners. Those yearning for pixels of the past can dive into a rich selection of retro games ($2.99+) for vintage systems including Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo Entertainment System. Guide virtual superheroes as they jump across flames and elude persistent tax collectors with controllers for the Playstation 2 ($9.99+), Super Nintendo ($9.99+) or the Nintendo 64 ($12.99–$19.99). Stacks of previewed DVDs ($4.99) and Blu-rays ($8.99+) provide ample fodder for future movie nights. Each store has a slightly different selection, so call ahead for specific inquiries or simply browse through the cartridge- and disc-packed aisles in person.