Dubbed by some the best-kept secret in Georgia, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center is a 6,400-acre wildlife management area, public fishing area and wildlife education center near Mansfield. The area, named for a noted outdoors journalist and the first director of Georgia's parks and wildlife divisions, also features a conference center, lodge, banquet hall and visitors center with a museum.
Only a hour-and-a-half drive from 60 percent of the states population, the center is easily accessible for most Georgia residents. More than 21,000 visited last year. The center is open year-round and owned and operated by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources' Wildlife Resources Division.
Walter Lane, a program manager with Wildlife Resources' Nongame Conservation Section, heads up the wildlife center. Lane said that education programs at Charlie Elliott are an excellent way for children, teens and adults to connect with nature.
"It is interesting that we are becoming more connected as a society through electronic media and yet many indicators suggest that children and adults are becoming less connected to nature," he said. "We reach over 20,000 students, teachers and adults each year through our onsite education programs and our outreach programs."
Several teacher workshops are held at the center throughout the year, in addition to summer camps and wildlife education programs for all ages. In July, the Forestry for Education teacher workshop welcomed 30 educators from across Georgia in a weeklong opportunity to learn about sustainable forestry and conservation methods in the timber industry.
"The feedback that we are getting from our students, teachers, campers and parents indicates that we are providing a valuable learning experience," Lane said. "For example, the fathers of two of our teen campers asked me what had we done to their kids because all they wanted to do after they came back from camp was spend time outside.
"... I am proud to work with such talented and dedicated educators and it is exciting to me when I hear about the great job that they do!"
Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center is open 9 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday. For more information call (770) 784-3059 or visit www.georgiawildlife.com and click on the Education and Regional Education Centers tabs.
The center, which encompasses Clybel Wildlife Management and Marben Public Fishing areas, offers opportunities for activities such as fishing, biking, birdwatching, hiking, hunting, archery, shooting, primitive camping and horseback riding. Regulations and hours apply. Check with the center or at www.georgiawildlife.com for details.
At Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, birds of prey keep curious watch from their enclosures as visitors are encouraged to inch closer to snakes, ask questions about insects, catch fish and of course get dirty in the process.