Follow the flow in southwest Georgia

Sitting on a piano key bench listening to Ray Charles’ melodies will keep Georgia on your mind long after returning home from Albany, the birthplace of the pioneering singer and musician called “The Genius of Soul.”

Along the Flint River, Albany’s Ray Charles Plaza features a life-size sculpture of the artist seated at a baby grand piano that rests on a pedestal. As songs play, water flows over the pedestal and spills into a reflecting pool.

Approximately 182 miles south of Atlanta, Albany is the urban and cultural hub of southwest Georgia.

Visit the Albany Museum of Art and view one of the Southeast’s finest collections of sub-Saharan African art.

Albany has numerous memorial sites, including those for veterans, astronauts and Albany’s pivotal roles in rail transportation and the civil rights movement. Albany experienced no battles during the Civil War but became a major supplier of cotton and food to the Confederacy.

The city is also rich in Native American history. The annual Native American Cultural Festival pays homage to the groups that first settled the area; it draws 30,000 people to experience dancing, demonstrations, vendors and craftsmen.

Make new discoveries at the Thronateeska Heritage Center, located in one of the oldest train depots in Georgia, which features the new high-definition, surround-sound, full dome Wetherbee Planetarium and science museum.

Visit the Civil Rights Institute, which is adjacent to the 1906 Mount Zion Baptist Church, one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s main speaking locations. On the second Saturday of the month, hear time-honored civil rights songs performed by the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Freedom Singers, a group formed in 1962.

Travel to the depths of underwater springs – without getting wet – at the Flint RiverQuarium. Featuring more than 100 mysterious creatures, it tells the fascinating story of the Flint River and the mysterious blue hole springs that help create it. The 175,000-gallon, 22-foot-deep, open-air RiverQuarium Blue Hole is filled with the fish, reptiles and plants found in the Flint River’s ecosystem.

Excite the kids, and become one yourself, with a trip to The Parks at Chehaw: It includes the 100-acre Chehaw Wild Animal Park, a zoo designed by Albany native Jim Fowler of TV’s “Wild Kingdom.” Young children will enjoy the large playground, petting zoo and miniature train. Also available are camping, hiking, disc golf and BMX racing.

Other distinguished annual events include the Albany Marathon/Mardi Gras celebration downtown, consistently one of the top 10 Boston Marathon qualifiers in the country, and the Albany Southeast Regional Series Bike Race.

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