by David Roten
More than 400,000 people have participated in Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center programs since it opened in 1995, fulfilling the vision of its namesake.
Progress, it seems, comes with a price. Though the Industrial Revolution and later technological advances resulted in many benefits to society, no doubt some things have been diminished—or lost altogether—in the process. One is the appreciation of nature. Another is the preservation of it. For Charles Newton Elliott, a Georgia icon of nature and conservation, the first inexorably led to the second.
In fact, it is next to impossible to overstate the impact the late Elliott had—and continues to have—on natural resources conservation and wildlife preservation, both in the state of Georgia and nationally. Throughout his life, Elliott’s deep love of the outdoors found its joyful expression through hunting, fishing or just sitting in the woods. His professional accomplishments are a testimony to that devotion. Dating from the late 1920s, his resume is impressive. A few of the positions he held: first director of state parks in Georgia, commissioner of natural resources department, first director of game and fish commission in Georgia, field editor for Outdoor Life magazine and outdoor editor for the Atlanta Constitution.
Kim Morris-Zarneke is the senior program manager at the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center, located just south of Mansfield. She believes a key to Elliott’s success in promoting wildlife conservation throughout his career were the friendships he made along the way with those who were able to introduce him to “movers and shakers”—people like Coca-Cola magnate and philanthropist Robert Woodruff and then-Gov. Jimmy Carter.
“He created networks and connections he often relied on to get him through his career,” said Morris-Zarneke, pointing out that Elliott’s passion fueled his purpose and his vision. “He loved to hunt [and] he loved to fish, but at the same time, he liked connecting people with nature and getting them to understand the need for management.”
Run by the Wildlife Resources Division of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, the CEWC continues to fulfill Elliott’s vision by offering a multitude of recreational and educational opportunities through various programs and services. The choices for visitors are seemingly as varied and numerous as the flora and fauna that abound in the 6,400 acres that make up the center, the Clybel Wildlife Management Area and the Marben Public Fishing Area.
“You have three natural wildlife entities working together to manage an area,” Morris-Zarneke said. “We work with fisheries and game management.”
Family Public Programs are usually free on Saturdays and cover a variety of natural history and outdoor recreation topics.
We are all bound by this bigger idea of conserving this place for future generations.Kim Morris-Zarneke, Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center Senior Program Manager
The Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center offers three different School Programs, all of which align to Georgia Standards of Excellence. CEWC officials take one of these programs on the road, bringing their unique wildlife education experience to schools and groups within a 90-minute radius of the center.
For groups, clubs or companies wishing to team build or simply enjoy outdoor recreation, there is the Wildlife and Other Wonders Outdoors Program. Guests can build their own game plan from multiple activities, according to their interests and needs. It includes canoeing, fishing, archery, firearms, outdoor skills and more.
CEWC is also the state coordinator for Project Wild, an international curriculum devoted to natural resources management. Educators attend workshops for professional development in areas related to wildlife and the environment. Meanwhile, the Becoming an Outdoors Woman Program offers hands-on workshops for women who, whether novice or expert, want to develop hunting, fishing, boating, shooting and other outdoor skills.
Since the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center opened in 1995, more than 400,000 people have participated in its programs.
“The whole idea is fulfilling that vision that Charlie had about getting people outside, getting them engaged in nature,” Morris-Zarneke said. “It’s a vision that is shared by all who work here. We are all bound by this bigger idea of conserving this place for future generations.”
It was a simple concept with profound implications: “Enjoy the outdoors and take care of it so others can enjoy it, too.” Charlie Elliott, who died in 2000, spent his time on Earth living it out. He may have been thinking of one of his many big-game hunts when, late in life, he offered this blessing: “I wish for you a long life outdoors—one that is filled with as much drama, humor and suspense as the one I have survived.”
Located at 543 Elliott Trail in Mansfield, the Charlie Elliott Wildlife Center is open Monday through Saturday, from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
For more information, visit georgiawildlife.com/charlieelliott or call 770-784-3059.