Visitors to Albany, Ga. — a city less than two hours southeast of Fort Benning — have plenty to explore. See the galaxy on a 40-foot dome at the Wetherbee Planetarium. Discover a 175,000 gallon replica of a fresh water “blue hole” at the Flint RiverQuarium. Hear the sounds of the famous Georgia On My Mind singer, born in Albany, at the Ray Charles Plaza.
The city has much more to offer by way of museums, restaurants and shops, but two gems stand out in particular: the Parks at Chehaw and Radium Springs.
Parks at Chehaw
Chehaw is the name of a tribe of Creek Native Americans who lived near where the park was later established in 1937.
The only attraction of its kind in the state, this 800-acre preserve includes camping facilities, a BMX track, disc golf, a large playground, a train, canoeing, geocaching, nature trails and — the highlight — a zoo.
Though Chehaw Wild Animal Park is one of only two accredited zoos in Georgia (the other is in Atlanta), it provides much more of a natural habitat for its residents than most zoos.
Designed in the ’70s by naturalist Jim Fowler, former host of the TV show Wild Kingdom, the park is spread out with rambling paths and wide animal enclosures. See cheetahs, meerkats, an African black rhino and more than 55 species. Don’t miss the alligator feedings and stroll along the swamp boardwalk.
A park and zoo combo pass is $5.25 for kids and military and $8.25 for adults. Admission to the park complex only is $2 for adults and $1 for children, military and seniors. For details, visit www.chehaw.org.
Ever heard of the seven natural wonders of Georgia? One of them, possibly the least known, is in Albany.
First called “Skywater” by Native Americans then “Blue Springs” by white settlers, Radium Springs was found in the 1920s to contain trace amounts of the radioactive element radium. The springs formed when limestone eroded away on the Flint River. Producing more than 70,000 gallons of water a minute, it’s the largest natural spring in the state.
In 1927, entrepreneurs built a resort there. The colonial-style building was named the Casino, though it housed only dancing and dining — no gambling. Visitors enjoyed galas, beauty pageants, golf tournaments, evening canoe rides and swimming. During World War II, the Army Air Corps rented the building for use as an officers club. When a 1982 fire and two floods in the ’90s irrevocably damaged the structure, it was torn down. Now, on the terraces above the springs, a botanical garden fills the space where the Casino once stood. Admission is free.
For more information, visit http://visitalbanyga.com.