"I've been a nature lover, our whole family has, since I can remember, dating back to when I was a small child," she said. "Then I really got interested in birds probably about eight, 10 years ago. [I] just started really focusing on that, and then I opened my shop, my Wild Birds Unlimited store [in Dallas], in 2005 so that I could bring my hobby and passion [to] the public and share it with the public.
"[I love] the pure enjoyment of just being able to sit in your backyard on your deck or on your porch and just watching them come to the feeders, all the different species that have always been out there but you've never noticed them until you develop a habitat for them. And just the pure pleasure of it, the relaxation of it. ... It's a great, great hobby. It's an inexpensive hobby just to relax in your backyard, make your backyard a nature habitat. You're not only helping yourself but you're helping nature to survive and thrive."
On Saturday, March 10, the Dallas resident will share her expertise with attendees of the Pettit Environmental Preserve's Spring Hike: Backyard Birding Basics. Along with Schmidt providing the steps to foster a backyard habitat at 10:30 a.m., 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m., there also will be a bagel bird feeder craft activity for youth younger than 11.
"What we're going to be talking about is basic backyard bird feeding and we're going to be covering the four essential elements needed to develop a nature habitat in your backyard," Schmidt said. "Food, water, place to raise young and shelter, those are the four basic elements that are required. Of course, birds need to drink water just like we do. They need to eat food just like we do to survive. They need to have a place to raise their young, which would be the bird houses and nesting boxes, and then they need shelter ... which is things like plants, shrubs, trees, roosting boxes, many different items go into shelter. So basically we're going to talk about those four things and how it can relate to your own backyard, what you can put up to attract birds in your backyard.
"After we talk about the four basic elements, we're going to focus on Eastern bluebirds, which we have here in Georgia, and the ruby-throated hummingbirds. We're going to talk about how you can attract those to your backyard with different kinds of plants, flowers, feeders, houses, all of those. The basic four elements once again, it kind of ties into that but we'll talk specifically about those two birds because the hummingbirds start coming back here from migration the end of March and the bluebirds start looking for their nesting boxes at that time. So it fits in perfectly with this time of year."
Situated off Highway 61 in southwest Bartow County, the Preserve consists of trails developed by Cartersville's Switchbacks Trail Design & Construction, a swinging bridge, a 9-acre lake, two aquatic stations, three amphitheaters and a Learning Shed.
With the 70-acre forest and lake ecosystem primarily accessed by appointment only, Saturday's Spring Hike from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. will provide the public a free glimpse into the Preserve. Along with the birding program, the event also will feature self-led and interpretive hikes conducted by Preserve Education Coordinator Lori Jewell.
"[During] the free events that we have, [the interpretive hikes] are more directed toward showing off the property, showing off the beautiful preserve that we have and also answering questions," Jewell said. "And then highlighting things for people along the way that will go along with whatever theme that we have for that particular event. ... [For this event] if people want to know what I know about birding, then I'll certainly answer those questions and anything additional that we might encounter along the way. What I love to point out on the trail is it's a nature preserve so we don't have animals in cages or anything like that. So what we really look for is evidence of what lives there. And there's plenty of evidence if you take the time to look.
"One of my favorite spots is what I call the beaver tree. There's plenty of other beaver signs that they're on the property but this tree is irrefutable evidence. It's just a huge poplar tree and you can tell that it's chewed three-quarters of the way through. We had to cut it down because of the danger that it posed obviously," she said, adding about 3 feet of the trunk remains, displaying the beavers' impact. "But that's one of the favorite spots that I have. ... Mostly what I want them to gain [from these hikes] is an awareness that first of all we exist and secondly just to enjoy their time and allow themselves to be outdoors and unplugged."
The venue 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 to this endeavor. Tailoring educational programs, such as tree identification and water testing, to youth groups, the venue served more than 1,800 students -- more than double the previous year -- during the 2010 to 2011 school year.
"Our main goals have to do with preserving our land and then educating people about environmental issues," said Marina Robertson, executive director for the Preserve. "So that's why we offer guided hikes and we offer some kind of educational program every time we have one of these events.
"Because, yes, we want people to enjoy the trails, you can hike on the trails, hiking is fun and it's a wonderful thing to do, but when you leave the Preserve we want you to have learned something -- something about nature, something about our environment that you connected with and that will give you a greater respect for nature and hopefully will make you want to do things that will help preserve nature as well."
For more information about the Preserve and its upcoming event, visit www.pettitpreserve.org or contact Robertson at 678-848-4179.