Riverkeeper opens new office at Oakfuskee Center at lake

Published 12:13 pm Wednesday, March 20, 2024

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By Annie Bresee

The Chattahoochee Riverkeeper held a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday for an indoor classroom space, located at their new home the Oakfuskee Conservation Center on West Point Lake. The new classroom marks a beginning for the environmental organization at the center.

The Oakfuskee Conservation Center is an event space in Pyne Road Park, overlooking the lake. The center houses CRK and its floating classroom, a boat that takes students on tours of the lake, water sampling, and other educational activities.

The space is owned by Troup County with the building funded by SPLOST funds. The upkeep and maintenance are paid for by renting the center out for weddings and other large events. It has been booked since December when the center opened.

The CRK, formerly located in downtown LaGrange, now has offices and does programming out of Oakfuskee.

“I think the need for a Riverkeeper organization, it’s pretty obvious that we need watchdogs. But at some point early on… we realized that education was just as important to the long-term vision,” said Henry Jacobs, the deputy director of CRK. “So we started on the floating classroom on Lake Lanier back in 2000…that really provided the footprint for the program we have here today.”

Jacobs discussed the impact of the floating classroom on the students and teachers who have been in it. CRK’s current Riverkeeper and executive director, Jason Ulseth, experienced the classroom as a student at the University of Georgia. The new indoor classroom space will be partnered with the floating classroom to give students and visitors a well-rounded lesson on the river and its waterways.

“It’s one more memorable part of the field trip. You get to be on a boat and zoom around the lake. But in here,” Jacobs said pointing at the indoor classroom. “You’re getting microscopes getting hands-on activities, rather than just teachers talking.”

Troup County Commission Chairman Patrick Crews also spoke at the ceremony on the center itself.

“Our community was in a fight with the state of Georgia, against our neighbors in Alabama and Florida about the Chattahoochee River. As our representatives from the county, were going to different areas to participate in the meeting. We kept hearing back, ‘Why don’t we have something on West Point Lake?’” Crews said.

He added that the county wanted a place that exemplifies what the lake means to the community.

“The river is very important to a lot of people. But this part of it is very special to Troup County,” Crews said.

Before heading down to the indoor classrooms, Tripp Penn, the President of the Callaway Foundation, and Mary Anne Lanier, CRK board member, also spoke on the importance of the lake in the lives of the community.

“We look forward to generations of students, visitors and guests who are going to learn to love West Point Lake as much as we all do,” Penn said.

Lanier has seen firsthand the impact of the CRK educational outreach programs.

“We are educating the young citizens of tomorrow about the quality of their water about the environmental beauty of this lake. And important it is [to know] where their water comes from, “ Lanier said. “We know that the most effective learning is experiential. So that’s what we’re offering these kids is a chance to experience the lake.”

The classroom had rows of tables; microscopes, and water samples sitting on counters bordering the room. Third-grade students from West Point Elementary School were there for a field trip and to break the new space in. Those in attendance were greeted by a song about recycling from the kids.

Jacobs and Lanier cut the ribbon in front of the students who represented all who would get to learn there.

“To see the kids, when you motor out onto the lake, for a lot of them, it’s their first time on a boat. It’s a special thing. Maybe some of y’all remember field trips that you took when you were in school. That’s why we’re here, getting celebrate the classroom and bring kids out to West Point Lake,” Jacobs said.

Immediately after the actual ribbon cutting, a CRK teacher began showing a map of the Chattahoochee River to the students in attendance. The lessons had begun.