The move comes after a year of reorganization and re-commitment following a tumultuous 2009 when the leadership went through several changes, including some contentious situations involving board members,
before an Albany area plantation manager was named president.
Billy Bowles, managing partner of Quail Country Plantation in Arlington, Ga., and a member of the organization's 20-member board, was asked to investigate the organization's finances in late 2009. When he arrived in Edgefield, he found major problems but did not see any fraud as
had been reported by some publications. The rumors of fraud had been so persistent that some board members had already resigned.
The problems Bowles encountered included an accounting system that was not functioning properly, and he found a huge debt owed to many Quail Unlimited chapters across the country. "We didn't have a little problem," Bowles told an Albany, Ga., newspaper. "We had a big problem ... a more than 6-figure problem."
The decision was made to divest the organization of its national headquarters complex, which consisted of a 12,000-square-foot headquarters and warehouse on 75 acres of land, and to use that money to pay off the debt. Bowles also determined to hold the annual celebrity hunt in January,
which serves as a major fund-raiser for the organization. The hunt, at which QU members and others pay premiums to hunt alongside movie and television stars, professional athletes and other newsmakers, netted $60,000 for QU in January 2010.
A year after the organization almost broke apart and went into bankruptcy, most of the tumult has subsided and QU has sold the Edgefield property. Phoebe Putney Memorial Hospital's Phoebe Foundation in Albany has donated eight acres of land to QU, which plans to build a one-story,
4,000-square-foot national headquarters facility on the site.
"The organization was at a point in history when it needed to make corrections in order to survive," said Bowles who added that the 29,000-member organization did not need as much space as it had in Edgefield, because most of its work is done in the field.
"We're not going to do anything that's not financially prudent and won't help us carry on our mission of supporting the habitat development and preservation it takes to sustain quail populations," he said.
Quail Unlimited has a long history of helping natural resource agencies and landowners develop ways to enhance their habitat for quail. Its many accomplishments include spreading its chapters to areas as far away as Oregon and New Mexico - and convincing the U.S. Forest Service and other federal agencies to adopt quail-management programs.
"One of our big components is to reach out and help people who own those lands. It might be helping people with those fire burns. We teach them to share their lands and to have the proper habitat and the thing is we do that all over the country," Bowles said.
Jerry Allen, the QU founder who retired five years ago, said more than anything else, QU has worked hard to convey that everyone should care about quail because their presence in a healthy ecosystem typically indicates that all is well. Allen said that seeing the organization he founded 29 years ago move out of Edgefield is somewhat bittersweet.
"I am not happy about the whole situation," he said, "but moving to Albany was probably the only thing they could do at the present time. They sold the building and grounds in Edgefield and used the money to survive while getting back on their feet."
Allen said bad management after he retired created severe problems for the organization. "I'd loved to have seen it stay in Edgefield, but there is just no way it could now," Allen said. "It's kind of like seeing your kid go off to college."