The Visitor Information Centers (VIC) in Sylvania and Plains are reopening on July 21. Each year, more than 13 million Georgia travelers stop at state-run visitor centers to be greeted with helpful advice, brochures and, of course, free samples of Georgia-grown peanuts. These two of the smallest centers not only help travelers, but are also destinations in their own right. They recently were transferred from the state’s Department of Economic Development to the State Parks and Historic Sites system, which is part of the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
Sylvania has the distinction of being the oldest continuously operated state visitor center in the nation. Plains, of course, is best known for presidential history and peanuts. Both appeal to motorists who prefer backroads over interstates, which often includes RVers, history enthusiasts and roadside-attraction fans.
Georgia State Parks and Historic Sites Division Director Jeff Cown said he looks forward to working more closely with the two tourism partners. “These Georgia travel ambassadors are a fantastic resource to promote not only our state parks and historic sites, but all attractions across the state. They know a great deal about what our guests are looking for and how we can best welcome them.”
Just half a mile from the South Carolina border on Hwy. 301 sits the Sylvania VIC. Opening in 1963, it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. With its mid-century modern design, space-age barrel-vaulted roof, and pink marble front, the building is a bit of a novelty in rural Georgia.
“For decades, travelers have made a tradition of stopping here,” said manager Jessica Godbee. “Of course, many are curious about the building’s design, plus we’re the only VIC that still offers free Coca-Cola samples. Many of our guests make a point to stop every year. There’s a couple who first came in on their honeymoon, and even now they still come see us on their anniversary.”
In contrast to Sylvania’s space-age design, the Plains Welcome Center was crafted to look like a rural home. Opening in 1977 on Hwy. 280, it sits on 17 acres with butterfly gardens and piney woods. Locals and travelers alike stop by just to feed ducks at the pond and pick up sample packets of peanuts.
“Most of our visitors are coming specifically to the area to see Jimmy Carter National Historic Site or to ride the SAM Shortline Excursion Train,” said manager Linda Harty. “Then they want to know what else they can see in the area. We often send them to Georgia Veterans, Providence Canyon or Florence Marina state parks.”
Both visitor centers had been closed since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.