Owls take center stage at Pettit Environmental Preserve's Jan. 12 program

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The mysterious nature of owls will take flight during Pettit Environmental Preserve's first Explore Nature Saturday offering in 2019. Starting at 10 a.m., the Amazing Owls Program & Hike will be presented Jan. 12.

"Owls are such fascinating animals because as raptors, they are so different from songbirds that most people are familiar with," said Marina Robertson, executive director for the Pettit Preserve. "Owls, being largely nocturnal, add to the mystery since we don’t see them very often.

"There are myths about owls, such as that they can turn their heads in a complete circle, which we like to debunk, but the facts of how they are adapted to hunt in the dark are interesting enough. We always get a very positive response when we do programs about owls or raptors because people are curious about these powerful birds." 

Free to preserve members, the Jan. 12 event will cost $3 per person, with a maximum $10 fee for each family. Ongoing through 5 p.m., the offering also will feature self-led hikes, and a craft and educational materials for youth ages 3 to 11.

"We have several mounted owls and owl artifacts for people to see, and we’ll be talking about their special adaptations that make them so successful at hunting at night— vision, hearing and silent flight," Robertson said. "While most owls don’t have to worry about being hunted by other animals, they are vulnerable. When owls … swoop down to catch rodents attracted by roadside trash, they are often hit by cars.

"In increasing numbers, they are also poisoned by people who put out rat poison for rodents, a poison that is now many times more lethal that it was a generation ago. We hope visitors will appreciate how special owls are and consider how they can make our area safer for owls."

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.

According to pettitpreserve.org, the venue strives to provide  a nature preserve for environmental studies; an opportunity for children to experience the joy of nature; a safe haven for native species; a research area of educational and scientific value; and an outdoor teaching laboratory.

“The Pettit Preserve offers quarterly programs, monthly hikes, children/youth camps and school field trips and is available as a venue for business and family events.”

Open to the general public during scheduled programs, the 70-acre venue consists of various trails developed by Switchbacks Trail Design & Construction, a 9-acre lake, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets, two aquatic stations and a Learning Shed. More than 20,000 patrons have visited the preserve or received outreach through its programs since the site opened in 2006.

"The preserve's mission is to not only protect the land we have, but to broaden people's understanding of the natural world and our relationship to it," Robertson said. "Our education programs for school children, Scout groups, summer day campers and members of the public throughout the year give us a wonderful opportunity to provide the knowledge to help people make the best possible decisions for the environment and their health. Plus the preserve is a beautiful place to visit and enjoy getting away from it all.

"Unsurprisingly, our most popular program of 2018 was about bats, with guest Vickie Benham Smith of A-Z Animals. We are always pleasantly surprised with winter attendance as folks are willing to get out in even cold weather as long as it doesn’t rain. There is much to see and enjoy even in the dead of winter and people seem to realize this — or have cabin fever and want to get out. We also greatly increased our offsite outreach in 2018, with display booths and activities at more schools, Scout events and public events than ever before. We did a presentation at the Swift-Cantrell Campout in Kennesaw this fall and have had a booth at the Great Lake Allatoona Cleanup for several years to let people know we are a nature education resource for them in Bartow County."

To view upcoming programs, Robertson encourages individuals to visit the venue's website.

"We will continue to offer fun, hands-on programming in 2019 with topics, like Bubbles in Nature, Forest Intelligence, the Pine Snake Project and many more," she said. "Our website always has the most recent program information on the calendar page. 

"As for facilities, we have completed Phase 1 of our multipurpose building, which will greatly enhance our education program when completed. We are in the process of seeking funds to complete the building, which will allow us to host events without worrying about the weather and attract a wider variety of speakers and programs. The new building will also have permanent and temporary exhibits that will make any visit to the preserve more enriching. Along with the new building is improved parking, larger bathroom facilities, more storage and a beautiful fireplace with access from the inside or the new patio."

Along with the site’s website, more information can be obtained about the Pettit Environmental Preserve and its program by contacting Robertson at director@pettitpreserve.org or 678-848-4179.