Chehaw has a rich history, a unique setting, a skilled and diverse staff, strong city support, an outstanding support organization, and a new vision for the future. This vision encompasses the principles on which Chehaw was founded… conservation, education, and preservation.
First developed as Chehaw State Park in 1937, the property consisted of 586 acres donated to the state of Georgia by private landowners in Dougherty and Lee Counties. It is enclosed on two sides by a large, clear water bayou formed by the conjoining of the Kinchafoonee and Muckalee Creeks. The property has expanded to nearly 800 acres and consists of moss-covered cypress swamps, hardwood forests, and a well-maintained wiregrass habitat.
The Park was named after the Chiaha, or Chehaw, a tribe of Creek Indians who lived throughout the property and befriended white settlers. Artifacts such as arrowheads, spearheads, tomahawks, hoes, drill, scrapers, clay pipes and stone celts were commonly found during original park development. Variations in artifact design show the land was used by distinctly different tribes over several hundreds of years.
In 1974, the city of Albany leased 100 unused acres of Chehaw from the state of Georgia with the intent to develop a wild animal park where exotic and indigenous animals would be displayed in their natural habitats. With the inception of the wild animal habitat, the State donated the entire Chehaw acreage to the city to further development. The City of Albany with Chehaw commissioned Jim Fowler, a native of Albany and host of the popular television show Wild Kingdom, to design and supervise the construction of the wildlife area.
The original animals were moved from the Tift Park Zoo in Albany to their new home at Chehaw between 1975 and 1977. Chehaw Wild Animal Park was officially dedicated and opened to the public in October of 1977. Accreditation by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) was achieved in 1997. Between 1997 and 2002, the then Parks at Chehaw began to examine other park venues that would be a valuable asset to the community. The Wild Animal Park became The Zoo at Chehaw in 2016.
In 2019, Chehaw partnered with the Flint RiverQuarium and Thronateeska to form the Artesian Alliance. The collaboration created by the partnership has already led to joint programmatic efforts, greater operating efficiencies and cost containment, and a more effective use of limited resources for the three organizations involved. The Artesian Alliance designation also paves the way for future joint staffing and programming, as well as memberships and fundraising.