Maury County Park, a 242-acre park in Columbia, is the heart of outdoor recreation and the center of community life for children and adults. “It’s a real gathering place and a happening spot for Maury County,” says Patrick Harlan of the Maury Alliance. Located in downtown Columbia, the park’s central feature is Kids Kingdom, a playground with a castle-like structure, sandbox and multiple play areas. "This structure is constantly used; it's a focal point of the park," says Al Ray, director of Maury County Parks & Recreation. Maury County Park is the crown jewel of the parks system because of its size and proximity to downtown. Ray estimates that 600,000 to 800,000 people use facilities or attend events in the park annually, with the number rising each year as more residents look for low-cost ways to enjoy the outdoors close to home. During warm months the park is busy with horse shows, beauty pageants, ball games, the Maury County Fair and Mule Day, a hugely popular April festival that features a parade from downtown Columbia to the park. Mule Day, dating to 1840, commemorates Columbia’s livestock markets and agrarian heritage, and it has turned into a nearly week-long fair that attracts thousands of visitors. “It’s a major part of our history from when we were settled, a great day of commerce,” Harlan says. “It is the destination.” For everyday celebrations, Maury County Park also offers residents walking trails, softball and football fields and eight picnic pavilions with grills, tables, electricity and running water. One of its most unique features is the train track for the Mid-South Live Steamers, a scale model train that operates just like real steamers of yore. During spring and fall meet-ups, steamer train enthusiasts take children and adults on a nostalgic trip back to the glory days of rail transport with free rides around the park.