You may not have heard yet, but the Georgia Safari Conservation Park is one of the most exciting well kept secrets that is about to be world renowned in only a few short years as they plan to open their gates Summer of 2020. Led by an ambitious group of entrepreneurs from a variety of unique and prestigious backgrounds, The Georgia Safari Conservation Park will be one of the largest zoological attractions in the country. With it’s three distinct attractions – a safari drive-through, traditional walk through zoo, and Treetop Lodging – it’s easy to see why our participants would be so interested in learning more about this truly magical place.
During an affinities class led by Tim Harland, our Development Associate, the participants and Tim found that they had a deep interest in wild life conservation. They discussed many ways to support conservation and decided to create a pop-up shop in which all the money raised would be donated back to conservation efforts. While developing their plan they found out about the Georgia Safari Conservation Park and decided to reach out to the park in order to aid their shared affinity for the well being of animals. Shortly after, the participants with support from our staff drafted an email to the park. The class wanted to let the park know that they would like to donate the proceeds of their pop-up shop to the park and excitedly asked a slew of questions about the burgeoning enterprise. To their surprise they were answered with not only gratitude for their thoughtful offer but also a once in a lifetime opportunity to have their questions answered in-person and on site. The participants were wildly appreciative and could not wait to go on a true educational romp into the wilderness! Lucky for me, I had the pleasure of tagging along to document the experience.
After additional planning to figure out transportation, the best day to travel and the best time to fit their school schedule, the class charged ahead. We drove out on a cloudy, cold morning. Though it was a bit of a drive to Madison, Ga where the park is located the participants hardly noticed the drive in their excitement and anticipation. When we arrived we were greeted by the park’s Chief Executive Director, Bill Killmer, and their Vice President, Brandie Anderson, who are both partners and founders of the project. They welcomed us to the land as we hiked with them along a gently sloping ridge to a pair of military transport vehicles. They recently purchased the vehicles from the U.S. Military and converted the vehicles into Safari-style trucks complete with traditional canvas roofs. We hopped into one of the trucks and sat in the rows of comfortably padded tan benches. Soon enough, Bill started driving and the participants became engaged with Brandie in a conversation to learn more about the animals and the intended future of the park.
We drove down a narrow dirt road passing cow pastures and horses. We then passed a small creek, going up and down several ravines until we came to a large clearing with a lone barn on one side and open wilderness on the other. Finally we parked on a hill in the middle of the clearing where Bill hopped out to explain to us the lay of the land and its intended use. From this vantage we could see all kinds of ecological habitats. The types of animals that will be housed in these areas all depend on the type of land will best suit the animals needs. The rhinos for instance will be situated near a cool shaded river, where as the Giraffes will be better suited in an open grass land area where they can graze and stretch their long extremities freely. Bill asked us to use our imagination for what it will look like in a couple of years as they still have a lot of work to do before all of the animals are brought to the park.
We then continued going deeper into the park until we reached an area unlike the others we had previously seen. In this area we did not need to imagine what might be there because the inhabitants were already there. The area was full of Asian Water Buffalo! Bill drove us towards the herd and parked right next to all of them. We enjoyed a wonderful cup of hot cocoa that Brandie had prepared for us and posed for a photo op with all of the buffalo.
Red Bull and One Horn were two of the groups favorites, as were the young calves with their ears that stick out like fuzzy bike handles from side to side. While observing the buffalo, Bill and Brandie filled us in on the buffalo’s habits and the shop terms for the buffalo’s many daily activities like chewing cud. Afterwards Bill and Brandie drove us back to our car. We paused for one more photo op with our esteemed hosts as we thanked them for their time and gracious tour of the land. Then we enjoyed a nice lunch in the charming square of downtown Madison before heading back for the day.
A few weeks later the participants finished organizing their pop-up shop, aptly named The Cocoa Toucan, and included all sorts of facts they had learned about the park while on the safari. They set up a safari booth complete with a video display in our library. They also made educational posters which they put on display to show their peers pictures of their journey. To raise funds they sold tasty treats like cookies, brownies and hot cocoa (an item inspired by Brandie) that were a big hit among everyone.
These types of class experiences feature some of the types of activities we use to strengthen executive functioning and independent living skills. Together we explore life-changing roads to more meaningful futures by intentionally tending to our interests and our day to day successes and failures; as such, we learn from all these moments whether big, like going on a real life Safari, or small, such as discussing what to say in an email. And sometimes we get to explore off-road too!