One of Albany’s premier attractions has been evolving over the past year, and its staff is excited about the future.
Doug Porter, executive director at Chehaw, told the Kiwanis Club of Dougherty County, “Chehaw has changed a lot just in the past year or so. New wilderness animals have been added, as well as picnic facilities and a BMX bike course.
Another addition has been an interactive children’s playground that includes a life-sized simulated termite mound complete with realistic-looking meerkats.
Porter said the overall goal is to create a place for festival and cultural events. Chehaw is also one of only two accredited zoos in Georgia (the other is Zoo Atlanta).
As the facility transforms in the midst of its everyday operations, Porter said the objective is to have a minimal amount of construction and maintain large, open outdoor spaces for the animals with fences that are not easily seen. Meerkats, emus and kangaroos are among the newest additions to the park’s menagerie.
Chehaw has also built small cabins that are available for stays; Porter reported that they “stay booked.” The front entrance from Philema Road has been revamped and the ticket booth enlarged, enhancements that will improve traffic flow and keep cars from backing up on the public roadway. The park also purchased a small sawmill that enables it to manufacture its own fencing materials from fallen trees and limbs.
Envisioned in the not-too-distant future are “sipping safaris,” where the public wildlife can be viewed in a more natural and expanded setting. At this point acreage has been set aside and a pond undergone improvement, but dry weather conditions have not been favorable for planting grass. As soon as rains return and grass can be established, Porter said, the park will move wild animals obtained from the collection of wildlife expert Jim Fowler onto the site and, hopefully by next February, start offering some behind-the-scenes VIP tours to get the animals accustomed to the human activity. Eventually, the safari setting will be opened to the public.
Also slated over the next few years is development “of a lot of waterfront property,” said Porter, a move that will be enabled by expansion of city sewer lines to the park.
These improvements, said Porter, generate revenue, save money, or both. Porter explained that Chehaw functions as a “quasi-public agency.” It is owned and operated by the Chehaw Park Authority, which is appointed by the Albany City Commission.
Chehaw has been undergoing some marketing and branding changes, such as creation of a new logo.
“The plan is to work hard to capture the Albany market,” Porter explained, then expand marketing efforts into nearby metro areas such as Columbus, Macon and Tallahassee.
“There is a lot of potential to explore,” Porter concluded, “and we are excited about the future.”
Chehaw has its eye on the years to come, but it takes its name from history. “Chehaw” is a Native American word, the name of a Creek tribe that lived in Southwest Georgia prior to the arrival of white settlers.
Chehaw executive director Doug Porter expressed excitement about the park’s future in his remarks to the DoCo Kiwanians.