Happy 40th Birthday, Elachee!

(Gainesville, GA) On Saturday, March 2, 2019, nearly 100 close friends of Elachee Nature Science Center came together to reminisce and celebrate four decades of promoting environmental understanding through education and conservation. This event was also Elachee’s annual volunteer appreciation gathering to honor the individuals who give of their time and talent to support this mission, and to recognize the 2019 volunteer of the year recipients. Elachee founders attending the Nature Center's 40th anniversary celebration, (L-R) Julia Cromartie, John Girardeau, Sissy Lawson, Rosemary Dodd.

Adding to this year’s poignant atmosphere, Elachee’s Board of Trustees and staff were delighted to welcome three of its ‘founding mothers’ and the organization’s first Board Chair. Pictured L-R are Julia Cromartie, John Girardeau, Sissy Lawson and Rosemary Dodd.

“Elachee Nature Science Center is here today because of wonderful volunteers who dreamed and have nurtured this organization for 40+ years,” shares Andrea Timpone, Elachee’s President/CEO in her welcome address (see below). In 2018, alone, volunteers logged 2,600 hours with 1,300 of those spent in conservation activities within the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve.

Sculptor Jane Hemmer, who is also a former Elachee Board Chair, donated this stunning solid bronze Red-Tailed Hawk sculpture in honor of Elachee's 40th anniversary.Elachee also received a very special birthday present from John and Jane Hemmer. Jane donated her breathtaking solid bronze Red-Tailed Hawk sculpture that John graciously hung in the massive White Oak tree at the Nature Center’s entrance. This soaring hawk will now welcome the tens of thousands of school children and guests visiting Elachee each year.

The weather broke right with a balmy day suitable for strolling around the Elachee campus. Guests enjoyed their sneak peek of new and renovated Elachee exhibits. All exhibits will be open to the public in mid- to late-March. Elachee has been in construction mode since November 2018 to install new interactive outdoor exhibits and to renovate the indoor natural history and live animal exhibits.

“Happy 40th anniversary, Elachee!” says Elachee Advisory Board member and volunteer Robbie McCormac, who along with Elachee Trustee Maria Calkins and Elachee Advisory Board members Julia Cromartie and Rosemary Dodd, helped plan the March 2 event. Robbie shares, “When I think about Elachee, two words come to mind: Change and Consistency. Change because Elachee is always adding, updating and improving to make things better and current. Consistency because even though Elachee is always changing, it remains true to the core beliefs of its mission of educating and preserving.”

One wish expressed for Elachee’s next 40 years: continue to prosper as a refuge from urbanity, wilderness for all animals and plants including humans. HOW YOU CAN SUPPORT ELACHEE

2019 Volunteer Award Recipients

At the annual volunteer appreciation event, Elachee recognizes an individual who epitomizes the spirit of volunteerism. For 2019, two individuals rose to the top, as did employees at one Gainesville-based organization. Pictured L-R: John Girardeau, Michelle Whitt, Sherree Moss, Rob Robinson, Andrea Timpone and Julia Johnson.

(L-R) John Girardeau (Ed Dodd Conservationist Award), Michelle Whitt and Sherree Moss (ZF Gainesville LLC 2019 Volunteer Appreciation Award), Elachee Board Chair Rob Robinson, Elachee President and CEO Andrea Timpone, Julia Johnson (2019 Volunteer of the Year)

  • Julia Johnson is Elachee’s 2019 Volunteer of the Year. A devoted Weekly Trail Crew volunteer, Julia has served in a myriad of other volunteer roles at Elachee over the years. Always smiling, whether drenched from sweat or raindrops, these days Julia plays a critical role in weekly, ongoing conservation initiatives within the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve and in maintaining the extensive hiking trail system that more than 36,000 visitors from around the north Georgia region enjoy each year.
  • Joining Julia, Elachee recognized ZF Gainesville LLC with a 2019 Volunteer Appreciation Award. This organization’s employees receive one paid volunteer day each year. There is a loyal contingent among the ZF Gainesville team who choose Elachee for their service day. Of note, ZF Gainesville volunteers performed labor-intensive preserve clean-up after the devastation of Hurricane Irma in September 2017. More recently, this team skillfully reconstructed portions of the Elachee Nature Academy Preschool playground equipment. Many also served on the volunteer crews for seasonal public nature education programs including Snake Day, Raptor Fest and the Trillium Trek Trail Run & Walk. Accepting the award on behalf of ZF Gainesville were Michelle Whitt and Sherree Moss.
  • Last awarded in 2014, the Elachee family humbly honored John Girardeau with the 2019 Ed Dodd Conservationist of the Year award. John has dedicated innumerable hours documenting conservation easements within the Chicopee Woods Area Park that also includes within its boundaries one of Georgia’s largest protected greenspaces, the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve. In addition, his multi-year leadership with the Gainesville Chamber of Commerce’s Vision 2030 community project has helped establish environmental and conservation objectives impacting future collaborations among government, education, business and non-profit organizations.


Things Broke Right for Elachee

As part of this 40th anniversary celebration, Andrea Timpone prepared a nostalgic walk down memory lane. She confided her remarks were inspired by a comment from Frank Armstrong, whom Andrea refers to as the individual “quietly guiding and leading our path from a fledgling organization to what it is today.” Following are Andrea’s comments.

“Elachee Nature Science Center is here today because of wonderful volunteers who dreamed and have nurtured this organization for 40+ years. So many of you are here today. At the risk of missing so many contributions, I want to share some highlights of our rich volunteer history.

I have been fortunate, as well as others in this room, to have shared time in the last year with Frank Armstrong. I have always thought of Frank as the godfather of Elachee, quietly guiding and leading our path from a fledgling organization to what it is today. We were recently talking about some Elachee memories. Frank made the observation that so many “things broke right” for Elachee. Here are some highlights of those things that broke right for Elachee.

  • Things broke right when in 1978 a handful of Gainesville citizens (including Ann Campbell, Julia Cromartie, Rosemary Dodd, Becky Geiger, John Girardeau, Sissy Lawson and Ellen Odegaard) began talking about a new community project – perhaps an arts center or baby animal zoo.
  • Things broke right when that same group, plus others, made a decision to focus on environmental education and protection. After discussions and visits to other places, they established a mission statement, a name (Ĕ-lă-chēe is taken from Cherokee words meaning New Green Earth), and at one meeting, a logo was chosen after a white oak leave was held up against a white dinner plate!
  • Things broke right when John Girardeau filed Elachee’s first incorporation papers in August 1978, with incorporation documented on February 23, 1979.
  • Things broke right when Elachee found its first home in a cottage on Brenau Avenue in 1979.
  • Things broke right when James Mathis started the infamous Curb Market Festival including Elachee’s first fundraiser the Bean House. Marsha Hopkins and Joyce Hornor started two other fundraisers for Elachee, Weeds and Seeds and the sale of Balsam Fir Wreath.
  • Things broke right in about 1980 when the Johnson & Johnson Company decided to divest themselves of Chicopee Mill and the 3,000+ acres they owned.
  • Things broke right when Rosemary (Johnson) Dodd, who was then working as Development Director for Dr. Hugh Mills at Gainesville Junior College, first suggested to James Dunlap (attorney for the Chicopee Mill) that the Chicopee land be donated to the college and as a park.
  • Things broke right when community leaders (including James Mathis, James Dunlap and Ray McRae) worked with the Georgia State Legislature to create the Gainesville Area Park Commission (now the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission), and in 1980 accepted the deed to what is now the Chicopee Woods Area Park.
  • Thinks broke right when Robert Bruner, Elachee’s president for six years, and Frank Armstrong took the initiative of proposing that Elachee build a nature center in Chicopee Woods.
  • Things broke right when they invited Dr. Frank McCamey to consult on park planning and he first proposed that the entire east side of Interstate-985 be set aside for passive recreation and education.
  • Things broke right when a golf course was promoted in Chicopee Woods and the construction of a nature center for Elachee was proposed as ‘a balance’ that resulted in a 1988 sales tax referendum passage allocating $1.2 million for the construction of a nature center.
  • Things broke right when our local school districts supported Elachee as an educational component of their curriculum, providing critical baseline support for start-up. Dr. Gwen Mundy was a leader in this effort, and today we are sitting in the classroom recognized with her name.
  • Things broke right in 1991 when the Elachee team moved into the new nature center with 3.5 staff members and dozens of eager volunteers who led classes, built exhibits, worked on hiking trails and staffed the visitor center.
  • Things broke right when the Chicopee Woods Area Park Commission granted a 50-year lease and management agreement to Elachee for the entire 1,500-acre nature preserve.
  • Things broke right when Frank Armstrong promoted and wrote the conservation easements and restrictive covenants which now protect this land in perpetuity.
  • Things broke right when Elachee’s Board of Trustees worked through the decades to become a highly-effective governing board.
  • Things broke right when Elachee pursued and achieved significant accreditation by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools, created a stream mitigation bank which improves the stream health in the Chicopee Woods Area Park, and when we researched and created a Nature Academy.

All of this history has contributed to the important work we do every day. Elachee now actively serves each year over 33,000 PreK-12th grade students on field trips and outreaches, provides and outdoor and ‘disconnected’ summer day camp for nearly 1,000 children, works collaboratively with Chattahoochee Riverkeeper to take 5,000 students onto Lake Lanier for water studies, and maintains a beautiful hiking trail system in the Chicopee Woods Nature Preserve. Our most recent initiative, the Elachee Nature Academy has 40 students enrolled and has a two-year waiting list for its Preschool class.

On behalf of the staff, we thank you for all for your energy and many contributions in the last 40 years. We are challenged to build on this legacy of things that broke right for Elachee as we continue the important work ahead of us.”

Read the History of Elachee Nature Science Center.