"Throughout the year I have just been besieged with calls of 'I missed your event,'" said Marina Robertson, executive director for the Preserve. "[Their questions included] 'When can I come out to the Preserve? Can I come out this Saturday? When are you next open?' Since we've only had three open days this year that are free and open to the public, it was like well now what do we do, say 'Call us in the spring?'
"So I wanted to give people more of an opportunity to come out to the Preserve while at the same time wanting to preserve the Preserve because we do have to be sensitive to the idea that we can't have thousands of people out there. So this was a good way. By limiting it to 100 pass holders we knew we could keep it open the first Saturday of the month and we knew that it wouldn't be overly crowded so people would still have a good experience."
Situated off Highway 61 in southwest Bartow County, the venue features three trails totaling less than 2 miles in length, a swinging bridge, a 9-acre lake and an amphitheater. The Preserve was formed as a private, nonprofit corporation in 1999 when the late Gay Dellinger and her children initially donated 60 acres of property to this endeavor.
"For folks who haven't been out to the Preserve, we've got our learning shed area where they'll be able to picnic and they can hike all the way around the lake," Robertson said. "My favorite place on the property has got to be the Boardroom for Planet Earth and that's an outdoor stone amphitheater and it's right next to the small waterfall on the property. It's a very, very peaceful and beautiful location.
"So there'll be hiking and you can picnic and check out our new bat house that we just put up this summer and just really enjoy the peace and quiet because there are not too many places in Bartow County where you can go and get totally away from the traffic."
Calling it good for a person's mind and soul, Preserve Secretary Ed Bostick said visiting the property has many benefits.
"I think it's important that people get outside into the woods," he said. "There's a book that was written about 10 years ago called 'The Last Child in the Woods' and it's a book that basically demonstrates the value of outdoor education. It's got strong data that supports the idea that when children are taken out of doors even if it's into a playground, but especially out into nature, that their learning increases in other fields, not just nature study.
"They do better in the classroom and they behave better. We're getting away from recess these days but any outdoor experience is good for children. It's shown to be a value for autistic children too. ... It's also true for adults. Get off your rear end in front of the TV or computer screen and take a walk in the woods. It's good for your mind. It's good for your soul."
The Saturday pass is a sizable part of the Preserve's efforts to expand its public offerings next year. The property primarily is open by appointment only, tailoring educational programs, such as tree identification and water testing, to youth groups throughout the year. During the 2009 to 2010 school year, about 750 children visited the site, the majority of whom were in pre-K to seventh grade at Cartersville or Bartow County schools.
"We'll be continuing with our Family Festival," Robertson said. "We will probably move it up earlier in the year. We'll probably have it in late April, early May. Then we'll have our three what we call open days, when the Preserve is open and free to the public but we'll probably add two additional days to that. So we're going to try and still increase our offerings of when the public can come.
"We are definitely going to make the Saturday pass days ... separate and in addition to our regular, open to the public days because if you come on our Family Festival day, we had over 200 people there this year and we hope to have over 300 this next year. So you can come on that day but if you want to come at a time when it's a smaller group and quieter, that's why the pass days will really help because we'll definitely know how many people to expect."
For more information about the Preserve and its Saturday pass, visit www.pettitpreserve.org or contact Robertson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 678-848-4179. Only 100 passes are available, with each costing $120. Once the first 50 passes are purchased, the nonprofit will hold a drawing from its pass holders for an 8gb iPod Nano worth $149.