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A to Z guide to family fun in Mississippi: treasure the summertime and create wonderful memories for children of all ages without leaving the state.

With summer right around the corner, thoughts are turning to trips to the beach, pool parties, and playing in the sprinkler. But don't forget about the many great adventures available just beyond the backyard. Begin your summer with a plan in hand with our A to Z Guide for Family Fun in Mississippi.

One thing is for sure: When you travel with children, sightseeing cannot be a spectator-sport. You need engaging, hands-on fun. And if you can sneak in a little bit of education, all the better. These family-friendly adventures found right here in Mississippi are simple and inexpensive. From tried-and-true favorites like museums and national parks to new and unusual ideas, our guide gives an array of exciting ways to spend hot summer days.

A

Introduce children to Mississippi's agricultural legacy at the Mississippi Agricultural and Forestry Museum located on Lakeland Drive in Jackson. The multi-acre facility features several smaller museums and exhibits including the Heritage Exhibit, Agricultural Aviation Museum, the Fitzgerald Collection, the Fortenberry-Parkman Farmstead, and a favorite-Small Town, Mississippi. In this replica of a small Mississippi town you can visit an old-time general store where you can buy moon pies, old-fashioned candy, or a Coca-Cola. www.mdac.state.ms.us

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b

The Tupelo Buffalo Park and Zoo bills itself as the place in Mississippi for the ultimate family adventure. Where else can you climb aboard a Monster Bison Bus (a souped-up school bus on gigantic truck wheels) or the open-air trolley and roam where the buffalo roam? You'll come face-to-face with a rare white buffalo named Tukota. The white buffalo is considered by the Sioux Indian tribes to be the most sacred animal. In fact, it is so rare that it only occurs once in five million births. As the guide takes you around the nearly 200-acre park, he will tell you about bison and the other animals: Patches and Freckles, the giraffes; Joe, the Camel; Zeke and Zelda, the zebras; and more than 150 buffalos. You can even feed the animals.

A petting zoo brings you close to potbellied pigs, miniature horses, deer, miniature cows, and pigmy goats, while other exotic animals like kangaroos, llamas, alpacas, an African lion, a Bengal tiger, and yaks can be viewed from protected areas. Round out your day with pony rides and playgrounds. But before you go, visit the website and download the pictures of the animals for children to color before their visit. Bring the masterpiece with you, and you'll be entered into a drawing to win a free T-shirt. www.tupelobuffalopark.com

C

Step into the past and experience storytelling in motion at the 59th Annual Choctaw Indian Fair, a festival held in honor of the ancient celebration of the ripening of the first corn. Scheduled for July 9-12, 2008, this four-day celebration offers rides and games on a traditional midway. Children will marvel at the craft demonstrations and traditional Choctaw dance performances and rituals, and they will even get to experience Choctaw foods such as frybread and hominy. The Indian Princess Pageant, showcasing Choctaw women competing for the title in their tribal best, will mesmerize little girls. Adults will enjoy top-notch country and gospel entertainment while the World Championship Stickball competition will delight children of all ages. www.choctawindianfair.com

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D

Looking for an outdoor adventure? Visit D'Lo Water Park, located on the scenic Strong River, the movie location for the river-crossing scene of "O Brother, Where Art thou?" Canoe rentals, shuttle service, camping facilities, walking tracks, picnic tables, and several playgrounds provide all you need to enjoy the great outdoors, www.dlowaterpark.com

e

Visit Emerald Mound, located 10 miles northeast of Natchez, is the second largest Indian mound in North America. It is 35 feet tall and measures 770 by 435 feet at the base. www.nps.gov/nr/travel/mounds

f

Take a trip back in time. Florewood River Plantation, located two miles west of Greenwood, is a state park that recreates plantation life in the 1850s. Docents are dressed in period costumes and the grounds include the plantation home, store, school, and blacksmith shop. www.stateparks.com/florewood_river_plantation.html

G

Gulf Islands National Seashore is comprised of a 150-mile stretch of barrier islands and coastal shoreline in Mississippi and Florida. Mississippi's portion consists of Horn, Petit Bois, East and West Ship Islands, and the Davis Bayou that is located on the mainland. Ferry trips to Ship Island departing from the Gulfport Yacht Harbor begin on March 21 and continue through October 26. On the island you will find sparkling white sand and clear, warm gulf waters. Visit Fort Massachusetts, the gift shop, or snack bar. The day will be a fun, exciting adventure for children and adults alike, www.msshipisland.com

H

Your child's eyes will be full of laughter when riding the Highland Park Dentzel Carousel in Meridian. A treasure on the National Register of Historic Places, the carousel was built in 1896, and has been painstakingly restored to its original splendor, www.meridianms.org

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I

Teach your children about Mississippi's rich American Indian legacy by visiting the 43-acre plaza at the Indian Mounds at Winterville, located six miles north of Greenville. It is one of the largest and best-preserved flat-topped earthen mounds in the southeastern United States. www.nps.gov/nr/travel/mounds

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j

Summer vacation would not be complete without a trip to the zoo. In 2007, the Jackson Zoo was named "Travel Attraction of the Year" by the state. "The new Gertrude C. Ford Education Center will soon complete the Wilderness Mississippi area. Sitting on 52 acres in the heart of Jackson, the zoo is home to 776 animals and participates in 23 different species-survival programs. There is also a handmade carousel and a discovery area. Throughout the summer, the zoo offers many activities for children including a zoo camp! Open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. wwww.jacksonzoo.org

k

Young and old alike will love reminiscing at the Kermit the Frog Birthplace Museum in Leland. Peruse a large collection of Muppet memorabilia and a display about the life of Muppet creator Jim Henson, a Leland native, before watching old Muppet movies. www.lelandms.org/kermit.html

L

The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center in Gulfport is Mississippi's crown jewel of destinations for children. It has repeatedly been voted "Best of Mississippi" and one of the top 50 children's museums in the United States, and it's easy to see why. Just looking at the brightly colored, interactive exhibits is enough to put a smile on anyone's face. All of the exhibits are designed to capture past and present life of south Mississippi. A two-story climbing exhibit simulates an underwater experience as your child and you climb towards the sky to the pint-sized shrimp boats that "sail" the Gulf. It is a magical journey for kids of all ages.

Built in 1991 in the historic Mississippi City Elementary School, it is comprised of 15,000 square feet of indoor exhibit space, six acres of outdoor play space, and meeting rooms for workshops, camps, and birthday parties. On August 29, 2005, the surge from Hurricane Katrina destroyed the entire first floor of exhibits and the peripheral buildings, but through the diligent work of the community and volunteers, it reopened on June 6, 2006. New exhibits and programs are constantly being added, and by the fall of 2008, a new performing arts wing will be completed, doubling the museum's pre-Katrina size.

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The exhibits are intended to be touched and explored. "The grocery store, a colorful, fully-stocked kid-sized market, is the post popular exhibit," says executive director Cynthia Minton. "Children have a natural curiosity about what it is like to be a grown-up and to do adult things. Here they can touch everything. Every inch of the space allows for learning to take place." Children can shop until their heart's content, bag their groceries, and then head over to the Pelican Porch and Bayou Bait Shop to prepare dinner. Your youngster can learn about weather patterns and then pretend to be a newscaster or weatherman and watch his or her performance on video. Another favorite, "What It's Like to Be Me," is a sensitivity-building exhibit that gives children the opportunity to experience life with a disability by navigating an obstacle course or playing basketball in a wheelchair.

But the fun and learning don't stop there; the experience spills outside to the Swiss Family Robinson-worthy Tree House Village--an incredible multi-storied tree house with views of the Gulf that will bring out the kid in everyone. At Bear Creek, you can hop aboard a tot-sized train or play in a rustic cabin. "We want our outdoor exhibits to create a conversation about the way life used to be," Cynthia says. "We want children to ask, 'What was a bayou house.' 'What was it like to live in Mississippi back then?"

Another question you'll hear again and again is "When can we go back?" If you have children under the age of 12, definitely put The Lynn Meadows Discovery Center at the top of your summer to do list! www.lmdc.org

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m

Mississippi Museum of Natural Science is another one of Mississippi's great museums located on the grounds of LeFleur's Bluff State Park. This museum will have plenty of educational and fun-filled exhibits this summer. Starting May 24 you can walk among the dinosaurs. The "Dinosaurs!" exhibit will feature robotic dinosaurs that are computer animated. These life-like creatures will amaze children as they interact. Join the museum on June 3 for "Snake Day" where a biologist will be on-site to help you recognize and identify the 6 venomous and 55 non-venomous snakes found in Mississippi. On June 14, don't miss "Katfishin' Kids"--a hands-on training session that will teach children how to fish, including hands-on fishing time in the stocked catfish pond. This free event includes lunches, t-shirts, and goodie bags (supplies permitting) for children ages 5-14. No equipment is needed. Every Friday from June 6 to July 25 will be "Prehistoric Fun Fridays" with hands-on activities and interactive programs, www.msnaturalscience.org

N

Neshoba County Fair in Philadelphia is a unique event that every Mississippian, old and young alike, should experience. Often referred to as "America's Giant House Party," the fair offers horse races, a calf scramble, fair rides, political speeches, and lots of neighborly fun in the cabins, www. neshobacountyfair.org

O

Pack a picnic and enjoy a day of swimming in the 3,800-acre Okatibbee Lake, located seven miles northwest of Meridian. Five beaches and swimming areas, playgrounds, ball fields, fishing jetties, horse-shoe pits, and volleyball areas will fill your day with plenty of summer fun. www.sam.usace.army.mil/op/rec/okatib

p

Visit Mississipi's grand canyon--the Mississippi Petrified Forest, the only petrified forest in the eastern United States. Enjoy walking along the shady trails, browsing the large collection of fossils and petrified wood. You can even for gems. www. mspetrifiedforest.com

Q

Want to have an adventure worthy of Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn? Check out Clarksdale's Quapaw Canoe Company's wilderness expeditions on the lower Mississippi River. Canoe and kayak tours can be arranged by the day or the week. Your teenager will be talking about this bonding-adventure for years to come! www.island63.com

R

Rainwater Observatory Planetarium, located near French Camp, is the largest observatory in the state. Take a "Backyard Astronomy" class as a family and learn about the constellations, Afterwards, (weather permitting) observe the universe through the large collection of telescopes, including the largest one in Mississippi. The observatory is open by appointment to individuals and groups, www. rainwaterobservatory.org

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S

Blast off with a trip to StenniSphere, Stennis Space Center's award winning visitor's center. Admission is free and the exhibits are out of this world! Land a space shuttle, visit the International Space Station, walk beneath an Apollo-era Lunar Lander, and see where the space shuttle's main engines are tested. Attend Space Camp on select Saturdays or weekly for children ages 7-12 and ages 13-15 StenniSphere is open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m. All visitors 18 and older must have a photo ID and International visitors must have a passport. www.1.ssc.nasa.gov/ public/visitors

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t

The dazzling museum at the 168-acre Tunica RiverPark is an extensive interactive learning center that captures the history of the Mississippi River. It is worth a special trip for the remarkable architecture alone. In the Mississippi Delta overlooking the-river, it is full of fascinating exhibits, including four large aquariums inhabited by native river life, dioramas of indigenous wildlife and wetlands, movies that capture the history of the river and the 1927 flood, and a scale model of Arkansas Post, an early French settlement. You can even take a dramatic, time-lapsed fly-over video tour of the Mississippi River from its source in Minnesota to where it empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

The 24,000 square-foot museum also includes a steamboat exhibit, a diving belt simulator, and a full-scale section of an ironclad gunboat. Feel the excitement and terror as you participate in a virtual reality simulation of a Coast Guard rescue boat, and then top off your trip with a visit to the third floor 48-foot observation deck that will give you unrivaled panoramic views of the mighty Mississippi.

One of the newest attractions is "The Tunica Queen." It departs from the RiverPark landing daily for two sightseeing tours and one dinner cruise and allows passengers to experience the luxury of a classic 19th century riverboat. Or if a riverboat is too tame for your crew, whip back and forth between the banks of Mississippi and Arkansas in a 50 mph-airboat. Before you leave, make sure and stretch your legs on the EcoTrail--a peaceful 1.9-mile walk through a wetlands forest. www.tunicariverpark.com

U

See the U.S.S. Cairo, a powerful ironclad gunboat from the War between the States that became the first armored warshipin history to be sunk by an electronically detonated mine. After resting at the bottom of the Yazoo River for 100 years, the U.S.S. Cairo and museum exhibits can now be viewed at the Vicksburg Military Park. www.nps.gov/archive/vich

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V

The Art Park in Catfish Row in downtown Vicksburg on Levee Street is a great place to spend the afternoon. Kids love getting drenched in the splash fountain, and a new state-of-the-art playground, built by the Junior Auxiliary of Vicksburg, will give children a great place to run off energy. www.vicksburg.org

W

What better way to beat summer's heat than to splash around in a water park? Gulf Islands Water Park in Gulfport, the home to the Gulf Coast's only water roller coaster, and Geyser Falls, a family fun water theme park at Pearl River Resort, are two of several in the state. www.gulfislandswaterpark.com; www.geyserfalls.com

X

There's plenty of X-tra fun stuff for families in the Magnolia State. One event to be sure and see is the balloon glow at sunset in Canton during the Mississippi Hot Air Balloon Championship and Festival, held July 4-6, 2008. www.ballooncanton.com

y

Take a trip with your teenagers to Yazoo and visit the chain-encircled grave known as "The Witches Grave." Yazoo native Willie Morris made the spooky location famous in Good Old Boy and My Dog Skip. And while you are at Glenwood Cemetery, take 13 steps away from the witch's grave and pay your respects to Willie. www.yazoo.org

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Z

The Hattiesburg Zoo's small scale makes it a great place to spend an

afternoon with younger children. They will be thrilled to see jaguars, zebras, alligators, and ostriches, and you can extend your day of fun with a train ride or monkey around on the playground, www.hattiesburg.org
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Author:Bowman, Nicole
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:May 1, 2008
Words:2657
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