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Preserve History -- Save our welcome center

A tranquil journey through the pleasant and scenic backroads of Georgia – an escape from the manic, multitude of vehicles found on the interstate – describes a trip along U.S. 301.

More than 67,000 motorists annually opt for the U.S. 301 experience through Georgia. This figure is based on the motorists who pull into the parking lot of the state’s oldest welcome center for a one-on-one visit with the center’s thoughtful and knowledgeable staff.

The center, located at the edge of South Carolina in our county of Screven, offers weary motorists information about nearby motels, restaurants and gas stations. The travelers receive a refreshing Coca-Cola and some tasty Georgia peanuts as staff members provide the visitors with a wealth of enlightenment about our wonderful PeachState.

The motorists are told of the Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in Macon, former President Jimmy Carter’s home in Plains, and the Okefenokee Swamp at StephenC.FosterState Park. Because of the help from the center’s staff, the travelers are educated that there is more to visit in the state than just the attractions in Georgia’s capital in Atlanta.

There are beaches and mountains; thrilling waterparks and soothing anglers’ streams; and bustling cities and quaint communities, like Sylvania.

If the center goes the way of the South Carolina center, motorists along U.S. 301 will never know of the opportunities in Georgia. The South Carolina center is mere miles from the one in Georgia, but the PalmettoState’s center closed nearly seven years ago because of state budget cuts.

The Georgia center faces the same demise.

Having back-to-back states with closed welcome centers does not speak well of either state or of the Southeast as a whole, for that matter. There is nothing more unwelcoming than vacant unused welcome centers.

Gov. Sonny Perdue has recommended the elimination of funding for the U.S. 301 historic welcome center and its paid positions.

Logically, if a welcome center closes, it is not going to re-open. So when the bass tournament comes to LakeLanier in 2010, Mr. Perdue how to do you plan to explain a welcome center on U.S. 301 that does not welcome South Carolinians to your tourney?

Perdue says the “Go Fish” proposal helped reel in the 2010 Forrest Wood Cup, an annual tournament put on by FLW Outdoors. The governor’s initiative calls for ramps, promotions and a new fishing hatchery to turn Georgia into a national fishing destination. This is a $2.5 million bass-fishing tournament.

Sounds like the governor has made one initiative more important than the other. Mr. Governor, the two must work together for a better Georgia.

The removal of the center, the oldest operational one of its kind in the nation, from the state budget would save in operation costs $150,205. The funding total is one the center’s staff for years has said generates much more in state revenues back to the state.

Georgia is projected to have a $2 billion deficit. Cuts are recommended through out the budget, but to cut this center out of the picture is the equivalent of slashing off a leg. How can someone expect this state to run as well without this tourism booster?

If the center were to close, motorists on U.S. 301 may never even know that Sylvania and other communities like it exist. Drivers would instead keep their foot pressed down on the gas and head right out of ScrevenCounty and possibly right out of Georgia.

In the past, legislators have discussed the widening of U.S. 301 to three or possibly four lanes. If that were ever a possibility, it is senseless to remove a viable welcome center from a road destined for expansion.

For the benefit of the county and state, residents are urged to contact the governor, and legislators. Telephone calls, e-mails and letters have a dramatic impact.

Those who visit the center quickly understand its importance to the community and the state. For additional confirmation, ask the employees in local shops and restaurants if they enjoy the extra business sent their way by the welcome center.

Those business owners know if that center shuts its doors, their customer volume will take a serious nosedive.

For the benefit of all, please do your part to help save our welcome center for the visitors of today and tomorrow.