Situated off Highway 61 in southwest Bartow County, the Preserve was formed as a private, nonprofit corporation -- The Margaret & 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.
The Preserve generally is open by appointment only, tailoring educational programs, such as tree identification and water testing, to youth groups throughout the year. During the 2010 to 2011 school year, more than 1,800 students visited the venue, which was more than double the previous year.
Name: Marina Robertson
Occupation/title: Executive director, Pettit Environmental Preserve. I have been a nonprofit manager for over 20 years.
City of residence: Cartersville
Family: I married my college sweetheart, Ray, 29 years ago. We have two children: Mary Catherine, 22, and Daniel, 19.
Education: My undergraduate degree is from Berry College (1983). I received my master's in social work from the University of Georgia in 1988.
When did you become the executive director of The Pettit Environmental Preserve and why did you want to be a part of this organization?
A. I started at the Pettit Preserve in January 2010. I felt that the Preserve was about to go through a lot of changes and felt I could make a positive difference. Plus, growing up, my family did a lot of camping and I was involved in the first Earth Day in 1970, which made me really think about humankind's impact on the environment. So having a job that educates people about the environment did not seem a really big leap for me.
What is the purpose of the Preserve? What do you want people to gain from visiting the Preserve?
A. Our mission is about environmental education for children and adults as well as preserving the land we have. Our society is very technology-oriented and increasingly urban. We've lost touch with nature, which is a shame because the diversity and adaptations nature displays can teach us a lot about how to live in the world. I hope that people who come to the Preserve would learn to appreciate and respect the natural world and be better stewards of it.
How has the site's offerings evolved through the years and what are the organization's future goals? Where do you see it in 10 or 20 years?
A. When the organization was founded in 1999 there was 60 acres and a lake, but no trails, no way to tell people about the environment. Nature interpretation tells people not just facts, but what impact nature has on us and we have on nature. In 2006, the Preserve saw about 90 kids for field trips; last school year we saw over 1,800, plus over 700 people through our seasonal hikes. Our school programs have always been aligned with Georgia Performance Standards, but now we have more of them.
We definitely want to grow, but the challenge for a nature preserve is how to grow in a way that doesn't remove the experience that you want folks to have: seeing nature in an unspoiled environment. We do want to add trails, add more land, and at some point build an education center, so all of that will definitely be in the 10 [to] 20 year range.
What do you enjoy most about working at the Preserve?
A. I learn something new almost every day. I love thinking of programs that will engage people and make them want to come out to the Preserve.
What is your greatest professional or personal achievement?
A. I'm very proud of my children, the people they are turning out to be. I'm looking forward to my husband and my 30th anniversary coming up next year -- only 20 more to go to the golden one. The 14 years I spent working in various capacities to start and establish the Good Neighbor Homeless Shelter is very meaningful to me.
How would you describe yourself in three words?
A. Enthusiastic, dedicated, energetic.
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
A. My first job was pumping gas at my dad's service station, a job which no longer exists since everything is self serve now. I also learned a bit about car repair.
In 2003, my family and I drove over 5,400 miles to California and back again -- an extremely important point -- in a 1977 VW bus. We had to push start the bus a good bit of the time and got help from many kind VW enthusiasts along the way. It was the trip of a lifetime.
What is the best advice you have ever received?
A. It's not what happens to you that matters, it's what you do about what happens to you. You can't control the cards life deals you, but you are absolutely in control of what you choose to do with what you have.
What is your favorite Bartow County restaurant/meal?
A. Johnny Mitchell's Smokehouse in Euharlee. My favorite meal there is anything with their brisket, which is to die for.
What do you like to do in your spare time?
A. I love to read. I teach Bible studies and right now serve as a deacon at my church, Heritage Baptist. I do some canning in the summer. I like to cook and try new recipes, although I often change them. I just made serendipity soup, which is different every time since it depends on what is in my cupboard and freezer.