Visitors to Go Fish Center Lagging in Opening Months

6:09 PM, Apr 1, 2011   |    comments
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The Georgia Department of Natural Resources estimated 100,000 people each year would visit the Go Fish Education Center in Perry.

It's been open for five months, and it appears this year, they will fall far short of that number.

Assistant Chief of Fisheries Ted Will says about 7,000 people have visited since its October opening. That number includes 6,000 individual visitors, and about 1,000 students with school groups.

Will said, "We are a little fish waiting to grow into a trophy fish."

He said the lagging numbers can be attributed to several factors.

Will said the Go Fish Center is not fully operational yet. He said they did not start bringing in student groups, a major component of the center, until February.

Since then, Will said about 1,000 students have visited, but they still plan to grow that number over the next few years to at least 15,000 students.

Will said they have only one specialist on staff to handle the student groups. That means the one specialist could have to handle 60 students at once. Will said, "Soon, we hope to be meeting our original goals."

Senior Fisheries Biologist Mike Gramley says they are working with local tourism groups to spread the word about the Go Fish Center.

Gramley said, "I like to say were one of the best attractions in Georgia, that not a lot of people know about."

He says advertising fell flat, when the state cut funding for Go Fish marketing jobs. Now, it's up to the Wildlife Resources employees to attract visitors. Gramley said. "None of us are public relations or marketing people."

In April, Gramley said the Go Fish Center will offer a discount to Houston County residents. Visitors must present a valid Houston County driver's license to get the $1 discount on tickets. Regular admission is $5 for adults, $4 for seniors and $3 for children.

Dianna Davis from Fort Valley brought her grandson for a first time visit. She said, "It just needs to get out there. Let people know it's here."

Davis called is an "awesome tour", and at a low price.

Her grandson particularly liked the interactive fishing exhibits and the alligator pond.

Ted Will said they plan to add two more exhibits, including a casting pond where children can actually fish, in the next few months.

He said they likely will not meet their operating budget this year of $200,000. Ticket sales and concessions produced about $30,000 in the first five months, but Will said that does not include rental fees for events or school trips.

Will says their original visitor estimates also counted on the Go Fish Education Center being open seven days a week. Right now, its only open on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, because of a tight budget.

The 2008 state budget paid about $14 million for the Go Fish center, under former Governor Sonny Perdue's leadership. Will said they are not receiving any direct state funding to operate the center. He said operating costs come out of the fisheries budget, which is paid for with state and federal funds.

Will said they have not attracted the number of people they hoped for, but it's still a work in progress. He said, "If revenue does not meet our operational needs, it's still a high priority for promoting fishing to the next generation of kids.

The Go Fish Center is the centerpiece of a $30 million statewide initiative to promote fishing and showcase the state's fish population.

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