Georgia's past and present will collide Saturday during Pettit Environmental Preserve's Georgia’s Climate Story Program and Hike. Ongoing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the upcoming Explore Nature Saturday offering will feature Dr. Bill Witherspoon.
"I came across Dr. Witherspoon’s program that was being offered at a state park and it looked fascinating,” Preserve Executive Director Marina Robertson said. "Then, I found out that the preserve educator, Mary Ann Pawlowski, had met Dr. Witherspoon when he taught the geology unit of the UGA [University of Georgia] Master Naturalist program. It seemed a wonderful opportunity to offer a look at climate history in Georgia, especially since we have never had programming on the topic. Dr. Witherspoon’s background as an educator of both students and teachers at Fernbank Science Center was also a big selling point as he is accustomed to making climate and geology topics accessible to people of all ages.
"It’s easy to look outside and think 'the land has always looked like it does today,' but both geology and climate science tell us this is not so. Everybody likes to talk — and complain — about the weather, but climate is different. Weather is what is happening today, but climate is about patterns that cover hundreds or thousands of years — or more — and tells a different story."
A resident of DeKalb County, Witherspoon is a retired geologist and the coauthor of "Roadside Geology of Georgia." As Robertson noted, he is known throughout the state for his expertise on this topic, leading more than 70 presentations, workshops and walks regarding Georgia's geology since his book was published in 2013.
"I will present two slideshows with animations, about how Georgia’s climate has changed as Georgia has drifted from near the South Pole to its present position," Witherspoon said, referring to his 10:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m. presentations at the preserve. "Volcanic eruptions, the crash of an asteroid, movement of tectonic plates and Earth’s orbit around the sun have all affected climate over time. People are often surprised to learn that Earth has a natural thermostat that has kept temperatures right for life. Georgia’s climate has affected many of its mineral deposits, as well as its landscapes.
"I will also lead two family-friendly walks, pausing to notice the stones and soil along Pettit Environmental Preserve’s trails. On the 1:30 [p.m.] trail hike, we will definitely see some rock outcroppings that are large enough to reveal how the rock layers in this part of Georgia were folded under great pressure. This happened about 300 million years ago — almost unimaginably long ago — as Africa collided with North America. While supplies last, I will give away rocks from the Cartersville area that are more than three times that age, which contain unusual blue quartz."
Situated off Ga. Highway 61 on the Bartow/Paulding county line, the preserve was formed as a private, nonprofit corporation — The Margaret and Luke Pettit Environmental Preserve Inc. — in 1999 when the late Gay Pettit Dellinger and her children initially donated 60 acres of property.
Open to the general public during scheduled programs, the 70-acre venue consists of various trails, a swinging bridge, a 9-acre lake, two aquatic stations, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets and a Learning Shed. More than 18,000 patrons have visited the preserve or received outreach through its programs since the site opened in 2006.
"I often get calls from people who just want to hike the trails, and I always encourage them to come out for our second Saturday events," Robertson said, referring to the Explore Nature Saturdays offering that launched in May 2017. "But, I always emphasize that our primary mission is environmental education. There are lots of trails in Bartow County, but not a lot of opportunities to learn about nature and the environment. In our technology-laden society, nature knowledge is getting left behind at the same time that we have lots of research showing the importance of our connection to nature for physical and mental health. By having fun topics each month, we nurture that connection.
"We have lots of fun topics coming up this year. In April, we’ll focus on how coyote populations have grown and adapted to urban life and what that means for humans. Later in the year, we’ll cover invasive species and what you can do about them; the importance of pond and lake ecosystems; native bees; identifying trees by knowing what mushrooms and fungi grow on various tree species; the importance of bats to our ecosystem; what amphibians do to survive in the winter and the science of snow. All of the topics are on our website, www.pettitpreserve.org, on the events page."
Free to preserve members, Saturday’s event will cost $3 per person, with a maximum $10 fee per family. Along with the climate program, the offering also will feature self-led hikes and children's crafts and activities.