My family recently discovered one of our region’s best-kept secrets: Tennessee Safari Park in Alamo, Tennessee (16 miles northwest of Jackson). Now your family can explore it, too, as Earth Day weekend (April 21-22) marks the park’s official grand opening.
After a few rounds of “Are we there yet?” we finally arrive at the big sign on Highway 412 that leads us to the safari park and zoo at Century Farm. From the entrance, we can see the free-roaming animals scattered across the wide-open fields. I tell my children that a safari park is like a zoo, except we are the ones in cages.
As we begin the 21/2 mile drive through the park, we are welcomed by kangaroos and sika deer. The African addax comes close to our van to have the first taste of the specialty feed we buy at the ticket booth. We creep along the farm’s winding roads, meeting and greeting animals from around the world, from huge Canadian bison to tiny African red river hogs.
While my husband caters to the llama and elk, my teen drops feed to the hogs that hover around our van’s wheels. My son and I prefer watching all this from the back seat. Quite a few ostriches come knocking on our van window. Seeing them face-to-face makes my son cry out, “Dad, don’t open the window. Keep driving!”
The property was given to the Conley family by President Andrew Jackson as a land grant during the 1800s. Their menagerie started out with just two peacocks. In 1967, they began a more serious effort towards animal preservation by purchasing the first herd of buffalo in Tennessee. Today, their park has grown to include more than 80 different species of animals.
In addition, the Hillcrest is a 200-acre working farm, where the family grows cotton and raises cattle. As our visit coincides with National Agriculture Week (March 8-10), the children have an opportunity to learn about life as nineteenth century farmers while viewing the Hillcrest homestead display. It’s fun to discover how people farmed and played games long ago.
“Our goal is to provide a learning environment that not only teaches, but engages the public,” shares Mallory Clark, the education director of the park.
My teenage daughter’s favorite task is removing kernels from the corn using an old-fashioned sheller. My 9-year-old son enjoys digging in the dirt and planting grass seeds in a take-home cup. Afterwards, we check out the walk-through petting zoo that includes Jerry the giraffe, leaping lemurs, black swans, pygmy goats, kangaroos, and of course, the showy peacocks.
We arrive at the gift shop just in time to watch Mallory feed the animals. She dangles chicken pieces above the baby alligator tank and the reptiles jump to the top, snapping it from her hand. The snake slowly swallows its lunch of tiny frozen white mice. Since it had recently shed, we can see the shape of the mouse beneath the reptile’s pale skin.
Finally, it is time to feed my little munchkins, so we take one final peek at the zebras lined up at the exit. This is truly a one-of-a-kind animal adventure. Pay a visit to the Tennessee Safari Park and meet animals up-close in their natural environment.
Grand Opening: Party for the Planet Weekend • April 21 & 22
Saturday festivities include games, keeper talks, magic shows, food, and prizes. Half-price admission. • Sunday events include workshops, keeper talks, and education stations about recycling, conservation, and composting.
Tennessee Safari Park, (731) 696-4423 • Admission: $12/adults, $8/2-12, Free for 1 & under.