Those of us who work in the tourism and attractions industry know that our Albany attractions have a significant regional appeal. Springtime visitors to Chehaw Wild Animal Park and to the Flint RiverQuarium will pass rows of school busses in the parking lots. The bold, black lettering on those yellow busses show that they have driven to Albany from every county in Southwest Georgia, and it is not unusual for us to host children from Florida and Alabama, as well.
In February, Chehaw was a featured presenter at the Georgia Outdoor Show in Perry, where we had an impact on an estimated 15,000 attendees from all over the south. We are regularly invited to present our education outreach programs at fairs and festivals in Bainbridge, Thomasville and Tifton. We host programs at the Park for groups from Macon, Columbus and Atlanta.
Earlier this month, we took our young male camel, Bogart, to Macon for a program at GEICO’s 40th anniversary celebration of the opening of its Macon office. We were told that 5,000 people work in the two multi-story GEICO office buildings on the outskirts of Macon.
They streamed out of their offices in shifts during our four-hour visit and, though they were fascinated with the variety of animals that the Chehaw education team takes out on the road, the camel was clearly the star of the show. One of the ways people show their enthusiasm these days is to turn their backs on the subject of their admiration and take a “selfie” with their cellphone. There are probably 5,000 photos floating around the internet today of someone’s smiling face — with a camel looking over the shoulder.
That would be Bogart, the Chehaw camel.
The GEICO program in Macon is remarkable for two reasons. First, the camel that lives here in Albany is being sponsored by GEICO, a company that doesn’t even have an office in Albany. That is why we took Bogart to Macon. They wanted to meet their Hump Day representative.
It is a great partnership for Chehaw and for Albany, which brings me to the second reason this was a significant event. Macon, which is roughly twice the size of Greater Albany, doesn’t have anything like Chehaw. And if you throw in the other attractions in our community, I would venture to say there is not another community in the entire state of Georgia outside Atlanta that does.
That is why folks from Macon, Columbus, Tifton, and Tallahassee have an appreciation for Albany that we probably don’t even have for ourselves. I’ll bet they don’t laugh when Albany calls itself The Good Life City.
Doug Porter is executive director of Chehaw.