By Tom Seegmueller
For the past ten years one evening in fall has been a little more invigorating than the rest. Regardless of moon phase, temperature, rain or shine those in the know await a unique opportunity to visit with the animals at Chehaw and “Walk on the Wild Side”. As the sun sets, the sighs and cries of the native and exotic species welcoming the coming darkness begin to blend with the music drifting through the pines while the band warms up for one of Southwest Georgia’s most unique events.
On Oct. 14 between 6 and 10 p.m. the Friends of Chehaw will join other supporters of the park for an exclusive after-hours glimpse of the exotic and indigenous species that call the Park their home. The entertainment this year is sponsored by The Levee Studios providing the perfect accompaniment for what might best be described as a competitive dining experience.
During the past decade some of Albany’s finest practitioners of the culinary arts have offered up samplings of their best efforts for judging by those in attendance. Currently: Harvest Moon, Logan’s, The Goodie Box. Captain Dan’s Seafood, Steak and Shake, Chili’s, Johnny Carino’s, Austin’s, Moe’s, Marko’s Pizza and the Donut Factory have chefs competing for this year’s, “The People’s Choice” award. During the event Chehaw’s benefactors will benefit from the competitive spirit generated as each of these establishments strive to provide something special to sway votes in their favor, creating an exciting and eclectic dining experience.
Walk on the Wild Side has also cultivated a reputation of offering supporters an opportunity to bid on some really exceptional items in both a silent and live auctions. Silent auction offerings include college memorabilia, restaurant and decorator packages, furniture, as well as hunting and fishing trips. The Live auction offers the bidder opportunities for catered dinners, vacation destinations and original artwork. Liz Gray, the Friends of Chehaw chairperson, reports that last year’s event was attended by more than 200 people and generated $10,000 for park improvement.
The Friends of Chehaw is a non-profit organization working to provide human and financial resources supporting the Chehaw Park Authority. Since the late 1930s Chehaw has evolved from a place for picnics under the pines to one of only three facilities in the state and the only one outside Atlanta which have met the rigorous standards for accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums.
Today the park consists of more than 800 acres including frontage on the Muckalee Creek and Lake Chehaw, cypress swamps, hardwood forests and longleaf-pine wiregrass habitat. Construction of the wild animal park was initiated in 1974 with a design plan formulated by Jim Fowler a native Albanian and host of the popular television show, Wild kingdom. Fowler has continued to provide direction for the parks continuing evolution. The wild animal park is surrounded by a variety of other venues including a nationally sanctioned BMX track, the Creekside Education Center, a disc golf course, and one of the largest outdoor play parks in the country.
Your participation at this year’s Walk on the Wild Side is a great way to not only enjoy an evening at Chehaw but to support its vision for the future encompassing the principles it was founded upon…conservation, education and preservation. Tickets for this year’s event are $30 per person or $25 for Chehaw Passport members and can be purchased at Chehaw, all SB&T locations, The Levee and the Albany Welcome Center. Call 430-5295 more information or to purchase tickets. Dress is casual or safari attire.
So come on out to Chehaw and Walk on the Wild Side while the meerkats look on.
Albany resident Tom Seegmueller is an outdoorsman, historian, disability rights advocate and freelance writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.