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Georgia Visitor Information Center to shine light on Effingham County
Forrest Gump
Effingham County’s Linda Mitchell and Grayson Powers, 2, have their picture made with a Forrest Gump replica during the 2018 Georgia On My Mind Day at the Port Wentworth Georgia Visitor Information Center on I-95. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff
It will be a good way for the people of Effingham County to show what they have to offer there.
Emily Murray, Explore Georgia communications manager

SPRINGFIELD — Georgia visitors will soon be able to catch of glimpse of Effingham County from several miles away.

The view will be from the state’s newest Visitor Information Center on I-95 in Port Wentworth. It opened in 2017 featuring three-dimensional exhibits about several state cities and other attractions. None are from Effingham County, however.

Effingham County Chamber of Commerce CEO Andy Cripps discussed the omission during Thursday’s meeting of the Effingham County Industrial Development Authority.

“Years ago, the chamber started to work on an interactive display at the Georgia Welcome Center,” Cripps said. “It kind of simmered for a few years and became dormant.”

 The project awakened recently.

“Just in the past month, we’ve been offered a much better space in that welcome center,” Cripps said. “It is a much more prominent space and we are going to do our best to fast track that project. We are working with graphic designers now.”

Cripps is unsure what the Effingham County’s exhibit will look like. The previous plan has been cast aside.

“We are now gathering photography from our tourism organizations and will pass it along to a professional graphic designer before we get another company involved in fabricating the three-dimensional elements of the display,” he said Friday. “We don’t know whether it will involve video or not. The final design (and budget) will have to be approved by (the Effingham County Board of Commissioners).

“It will probably also be used on a tourism brochure and on a tourism website.”

Cripps told the IDA that the goal is to complete the project within 12 months.

Explore Georgia Communications Manager Emily Murray was happy about the development.

“It will be a good way for the people of Effingham County to show what they have to offer,” she said.

Explore Georgia estimates that 13 million people visit the state’s nine visitor information centers annually. The others are in Augusta, Columbus, Lavonia, Ringgold, St. Marys, Tallapoosa, Valdosta and West Point. They were shut down last year in March because of COVID-19. They reopened a couple months ago.

 The Port Wentworth facility is unique in that it features numerous three-dimensional exhibits, including lifelike oak limbs with Spanish moss clinging to them and a park bench featuring a replica of movie character Forrest Gump. The exhibits are made of resin.

“It’s the only one that has that,” Murray said. “We do a lot of different things with area partners but the one in Port Wentworth is the most state-of-the-art. ... They really wanted it to be an immersive experience when the visitors come in and to really showcase the local destinations in the visitors center.

“It’s kind of like a destination in itself, kind of an attraction.”

The park bench has proven to be highly popular.

“People love to take their photo by Forrest Gump,” Murray said. “It’s a cool little experience to do that.”

“We’ve had to repaint it twice,” said State Facilities Manager James Clute, who is responsible for the upkeep of Georgia's 11,000 state-owned buildings.

Clute recalled Effingham County’s original display plans. He recently met Cripps, who didn't work for the chamber at the time..

“They had many different iterations and drawings, and they changed their minds,” Clute said.

Clute, an engineer who also works for the Georgia Department of Transportation, was involved in Port Wentworth visitor information center projects designed by the City of Savannah, the Golden Isles, Okefenokee Park and others. He said the City of Pooler recently added a caboose.

“Except for Effingham County, we are not going to allow any other displays in there because there just isn’t any room in there anymore,” he said. “We have to factor in the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) issues, egress and ingress in and out of the building, and that kind of thing.”

Murray said the displays are especially effective during Georgia On My Mind Days. The pandemic has precluded them in recent months, however.

“In normal times, our local tourism partners can have a table and interact face-to-face with consumers,” she said. “They get a ton of foot traffic on those days and we do some local media around them. It really helps drive people in to get information and sometimes get some deals for that area.

“Hopefully, when the world goes back to normal, we will start doing those again.”