About 30 environmental leaders from across the state are in southwest Georgia this week as part of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2021.

ALBANY -- This week about 30 environmental leaders from across the state are in southwest Georgia as part of the Institute for Georgia Environmental Leadership Class of 2021.

The current class is the 19th such group to come to the area. These leaders come from all parts of the state and various fields of environmental involvement, including law, government, nonprofit, agriculture, industry, scientist, municipal and many others. The goal of the IGEL experience is to gather people from different fields of expertise and combine them to learn about each other’s experiences and create a network of people working together to solve environmental problems.

IGEL was formed in 2001 at the University of Georgia. It was based on an ideal that if people get to know each other and share their thoughts and views, they can better work with each other to settle differences and disputes, instead of constantly ending up in protracted disputes and court action. Since 2001, hundreds of alumni have completed the training.

After graduation, alumni have implemented their new skills and training to successfully solve environmental challenges and called on fellow graduates to confer and collaborate on sustainability issues. Instead of constant conflict, Georgia’s environmentally-aware leaders can now work together to create a brighter, cleaner future for our state.

Each year, except for the COVID year of 2020, the students travel to different parts of the state to get information from local experts on particular issues in that area. In southwest Georgia the students get to visit and listen to experts from agricultural, science, riverkeeping, irrigation, forestry and other sectors.

As with every year, the group meets on the first day for a water adventure on the Flint River. This trip is hosted by Flint Riverkeeper, Rocky Bend Flint River Retreat, the Jones Ecological Research Center and CoveyRise Plantation. Usually the majority of the group paddles from Rocky Bend to CoveyRise, but this year, due to high water, the group boarded the “White Rose” and cruised down the Flint to CoveyRise for a porch session with discussion on the needs and issues of the river and creek systems in this area.

“We are really excited about mobilizing communities in the upper Flint to become aware of this amazing resource, and look forward to bringing folks down to see the entire watershed,” Darryl Haddock (of the South Fulton) West Atlanta Watershed Alliance (WAWA), said.

“I appreciated the opportunity to learn first-hand the impacts and importance of the Flint River from the Riverkeeper staff and board members," Kathleen Bowen of Dekalb County and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG), said. "Being physically on the river led us to thoughtful, relevant conversations that wouldn’t have occurred had we been in a classroom setting.”

The remainder of the week the class will be instructed on various environmental issues in Albany, as well as on-site visits to farms, fields, research facilities, and other locations in southwest Georgia. The majority of these discussions will center on water availability and its issues and use among the people.

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