Charlie Elliot was one of those guys that everyone wants for a grandfather. I just met him yesterday, and he only spoke to me through pictures and placards posted at a little museum that would have easily qualified as cheesy except that the subject of it all was such a badass. He was from the Covington area and grew up hunting and fishing (which does not distinguish him in any way out here). What distinguished him was that as the first Director of the Georgia Game and Fish Commission in 1943 he changed the emphasis from political patronage and croneyism (“game wardens” were men who helped their politician patrons get elected) to true wildlife management and education. He replaced the job title “game warden” with “ranger” and pissed a whole lot of people off. He replaced the emphasis on law enforcement to creating wildlife preserves for the public to use and enjoy. He is why you can find old growth hardwood trees in the Joyce Kilmer Memorial Forest (true old growth is almost nonexisistent out here). Later in life he became a prolific and famous writer for Outdoor magazine (during the 50’s) and became bosom buddies with Robert W. Woodruff (president of Coca Cola) and (judging from the pictures) caught a whole mess of really big fish and bagged some pretty impressive deer. Oh yes, and at the age of 70-something he rode his horse on a 600 mile trip out west.
Ten miles south of our campus is the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center. One of those brown freeway signs (the kind that directs you to all those state parks and historic sites on your list of “to do when I get more free time”) has been a part of my daily commute since August, but only yesterday did I actually follow it. I was completely floored (can you be incompletely floored?). The center is a ~6,400 acre managed preserve whose primary reason for existence is public education, but hunting and fishing are a close second. It houses an extensive and beautiful conference center with living quarters for guests. This probably doesn’t sound all that amazing – but you have to remember, the stated primary goal of this place is education. At a time when California’s state parks are closing, Georgia is maintaining this huge investment in outdoor education. The buildings themselves were largely paid for with generous private donations, but the workers are all paid by the state.
This is a huge opportunity to get our students outside learning. Its also a huge opportunity for me to learn. Before we moved out here I realized that hunters and fisherman are some of our most valuable environmentalists, but quite honestly I didn’t know anyone who actually hunted (as opposed to having gone hunting a time or two) and I think I harbored latent suspicions about the kind of people who did so regularly. Now I am surrounded by hunters and fishermen, and I wouldn’t change a thing.