According to a recent study by the National Parks Service, there is growing awareness that parks "provide an array of social benefits in addition to recreation, inspiration and research. They are increasingly seen, for example, as a far-flung university and library without walls, as important adjuncts to the public education system, as opportunity to be meaningful partners in addressing international environmental issues such as climate change and national health issues such as obesity and air pollution related illnesses, and as touchstones for what and who we are as a society."
We in South Georgia are fortunate to have our own "university and library without walls" at Chehaw Park. Over the past few years, Chehaw has seen many improvements -- some of them visible, like the new logo, website and entrance, and some not so visible, like the fiber optic network and WiFi hotspots throughout the park.
Chehaw has also stepped to the forefront of science education. We host the annual Dougherty County Schools Science Olympiad, Albany State University biology labs and Georgia Southwestern State University biology field research projects.
Today, with continuing financial support from the city of Albany, the park operates like a small business, employing more than 40 people and contributing to the quality of life for all of Southwest Georgia.
Chehaw is also an attraction that draws visitors from outside the Albany area. A license plate survey from Labor Day through the month of September 2011 found that nearly 40 percent of our visitors come from outside our region. That translates to 40,000 people over the course of the year that come to Albany because of Chehaw Park.
Are they coming because of our accredited zoo, or because of events like the Festival of Lights and the Frontier Festival, or because of the outstanding educational opportunities? Perhaps they are coming for a family reunion, to spend a night in our campground, or to ride on our mountain bike trail. Most likely, it is a combination of many of these factors because when you add them up, Chehaw has something for everyone.
This summer, Coca-Cola is calling people out to the nation's parks to vote in its "America Is Your Park" campaign. The park with the most votes will receive a $100,000 recreation grant and the title of "America's Favorite Park." And more than one park will win:
- Second place: $50,000 grant;
- Third place: $25,000 grant;
- A fourth park, chosen at random from places 4-25: $15,000 grant.
Chehaw is in the running to be America's Favorite Park at 37th place nationwide, with over 10,000 votes cast. This is up from a just a few hundred votes on June 1.
Voting is easy! Chehaw Park lovers can vote from now until July 15 by visiting LivePositively.com/parks to vote via computer or smartphone (1 vote each) or you can "check in" with your smartphone from the park and cast 100 votes at a time. What a great way to show your pride in Sough Georgia and help make Chehaw America's Favorite Park!
Doug Porter is executive director of Chehaw Park.