The United Kennel Club announced Thursday that the coon hunt is being moved from Albany to the small town of Batesville, Miss.
ALBANY, Ga. -- A venerated fixture in the hunting world is pulling up its Georgia roots and heading to Mississippi, and it's taking about $2 million in economic impact with it.
The United Kennel Club's Winter Classic -- an exhibition of coon dogs that has called Dougherty County its home for 25 years -- is moving to the tiny town of Batesville, Miss.
According to the UKC website, the United Kennel Club has made the "difficult decision" to move the UKC Winter Classic Coon Hunt to the Batesville Civic Center in Batesville, Miss.
"We are indebted with gratitude to the people and community of Albany, Georgia, and the surrounding clubs for their help and support in building this outstanding event," the website said. "However, in looking ahead to the next 25 years, we feel we can take this event to a new and unprecedented level by making this move."
While most postings on the UKC message board from organization officials seem to suggest the move was made out of a need for the event to be more centrally located, one posting suggests that Albany just wasn't good enough for the group.
"Well, like the press release says, it moved because we thought we could put on a nicer event for our customers. There are lots of factors. This is a beautiful facility and this event will be unlike anything else in the sport being held in the civic center. And we should have a better draw being more centralized in the South. It certainly puts the event closer to more people," UKC Vice President and forum moderator Todd Kellam posted.
"We wanted to move it last year but decided to stay in Albany for the 25th anniversary celebration out of respect for the Deep South Classic Coonhunters and the city of Albany. But we would simply like to try something different for the next 25 years."
The move has coonhound enthusiasts in Albany and on the East Coast yelping in protest. Many vowed on the UKC's message board to take their prized dogs somewhere else.
"Sure hate to see this. I've hunted both areas, and the hunting around Albany is better," commenter "Blue Iron," posted. "I know a lot of calls and emails were put in about the Winter Classic staying in Albany; hate that our voices weren't heard. Especially considering that the city of Albany and the Exchange Club Fairgrounds were willing to do what needed to be done to keep the Winter Classic in Albany."
Glynn Holmes, an avid coon hunter and Blue Tick Hound enthusiast from Fort Valley, posted his displeasure with the decision on the forums.
"I'm not upset, y'all just made a stupid move. I been to the Batesville area on many occasions and have yet to find a pet-friendly hotel in the area that was nice enough for my family to stay. There are some roach motels that will take pets," he wrote. "I have been to my last UKC Winter Classic."
The decision to move is more than just an inconvenience for hunting enthusiasts in the Southeastern U.S., it's an economic boondoggle for the people of Albany who enjoyed the nearly $2 million the event brought in direct local economic impact.
Economic development and tourism officials said Thursday, however, that plans are already under way to host a local event for those who choose not to participate in the Winter Classic next year.
"The decision to move the UKC event was made by the UKC and had nothing to do with Albany," Albany Convention & Visitors Bureau Manager Rashelle Beasley said. "We hate to lose anyone who has been with us, especially for that long, but we respect their decision to find a more centrally located geographic location to attract a secondary market for the future growth of their organization.
"The CVB is already in talks with the Deep South Coon Club and other regional clubs to organize a tailored hunt for Albany and Southwest Georgia. In working with the United Kennel Club over the years, our coon hunting clubs, the Exchange Club and CVB have the experience and reputation it takes to host a premier event in our region, so this creates an exciting opportunity."
James Lawrence, one of the heads of the Deep South Coon Club and Association, said Thursday there are other dog clubs that put on hunts each year and that they're going to work hard to try and have their own hunt and show in Albany regardless of what Michigan-based UKC does.
"We're talking with some people about hosting our own show here; that way somebody in Michigan can't tell us, basically at the last minute, that we aren't going to have a hunt," Lawrence said.
Lawrence said relationships that have been built over the last 25 years with coonhunters throughout the Southeast and the Ohio River Valley should help bolster an Albany event.
According to the U.S. Census, Batesville, Miss., is a town of roughly 7,600 in Northwestern Mississippi, has a poverty level of 36 percent and covers 19.5 square miles.