“It’s very exciting. I know [my husband] Billy’s on the board out here and everybody has put in a lot of effort to make this a great place to come and to bring the school kids and just to have a good time,” Chamber of Commerce 2016 Chair Jessica Fleetwood told the crowd. “When you can bring civic clubs together that help enhance an area for everybody’s use, it always is very beneficial to everybody.
“And Dee and Marlu and Jamie Lee are all here and it’s because of their family that this is all possible,” she said, referring to the property originally being donated by the late Gay Pettit Dellinger and her relatives. “So we always want to remember that gifts come in many ways and this is a great gift from your family, and we all appreciate it.”
Described by Preserve Executive Director Marina Robertson as a Goldilocks path, the Rotary Loop Trail is intermediate in length and provides a link to existing pathways.
“The Rotary Clubs in our community, Bartow, Cartersville and Etowah, have always been supportive of the Preserve,” Robertson said. “The Cartersville Rotary sponsors Boy Scout Troop 24, whose members have completed at least four Eagle Projects at the Preserve since 2008. The Bartow Rotary has made several donations for programs at the Preserve over the years. Several years ago, when I was in Rotary, the three local clubs partnered on refurbishing a park on Fite Street; it was that project that gave me the idea to approach all three local Rotary clubs to work together. So when we were thinking about partners for this project, Rotary naturally came to mind as a service-oriented group.
“The project began with a request from our educator, Lori Jewell, for an intermediate length trail — shorter than the 1.6-mile Collins trail but longer than the James Randall Roe/Toyo Trail, which is only .3 mile. An intermediate length trail would enhance our first- and second-grade school field trip programs as well as provide another hiking opportunity for our quarterly public hikes. What made this particular trail possible was a private donation designated for a new Preserve feature, which the board could choose. The board decided to go with a floating bridge to cross a small inlet, which then opened up a new trail possibility right next to the water. The bridge has been installed and is in use and will be dedicated at a later date.”
Robertson continued, “The Rotary groups responded positively to our request and came in with volunteers and funds to build a 425-foot section of trail to connect the bridge with existing trails. Without their support, we would have been unable to link the trails to form a .65-mile loop trail that gives students and the public new options for experiencing the Preserve. The Rotary Trail completes a loop that starts with the James Randall Roe Trail, which goes down to the dam and continues to the Toyo Trail near the Lakeside Amphitheater. By picking up the Rotary Trail, crossing the floating bridge and connecting with the Collins Trail, the entire .65-mile loop trail comes together.”
Situated off Ga. Highway 61 in southwest Bartow County, 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 to this endeavor. Along with the Rotary Loop Trail and floating bridge, the 70-acre forest and lake ecosystem, which is open to the public by appointment and during scheduled events, also consists of various trails developed by Cartersville’s Switchbacks Trail Design & Construction, a 36-foot swinging bridge, a 9-acre lake, compost demonstration and garden, two aquatic stations, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets and a Learning Shed.
In addition to the new features that were highlighted on Thursday, the Preserve also recently welcomed the installation of three composting toilets. While the two toilets at the Boardroom for Planet Earth opened to the public during the venue’s Spring Hike on March 22, the unit near the Learning Shed could not be utilized until mid-April due to the need for electrical wiring.
“The composting toilets, two of which are located on the south end of the property near the Boardroom for Planet Earth, have been in the works since 2010,” Robertson said. “Using these unique all-in-one composting toilet made by Sun-Mar, we were able to add toilet facilities without the expense and environmental impact of toilets on a septic tank. The units use no water and operate without the smell and insects associated with a traditional outhouse by using a vented tumbling chamber to process waste. The third unit is located next to the Learning Shed and has been a big help in handling school groups that visit the Preserve on field trips. The building for the single composting toilet was constructed [in 2012 by] Jake Roberts, Scout Troop 350, as his Eagle project and the Sun-Mar unit was purchased with a grant from the Community Foundation of Northwest Georgia.
“The ‘user experience’ with our composting toilets is just the same as a regular toilet, except there is no flush. At the end of each day of use, Preserve staff add bulking material and turn the crank on the composting chamber to promote aerobic decomposition. After two [to] six weeks, depending on usage and outside temperatures, the finished compost is emptied into a drawer at the bottom of the toilet, where it can be removed and used to fertilize plants in our garden. ... While many folks have been very excited about the addition of composting toilets, there is always an ‘eww’ factor when dealing with any type of waste. But as our community and our world get ever more crowded, issues of waste disposal and water usage are very pressing problems. Having the Sun-Mar all-in-one composting toilets at the Preserve is just another way to educate the public about environmental issues, which is a key part of our mission.”
For Robertson, the opportunity to see various groups in the community work with the Preserve to help these projects come to fruition has been an exciting experience.
“This year is one of the most eventful in my four-plus years with the Preserve,” she said. “But all the projects have been in the works for a while and it’s rewarding to see them come together. What has been the most exciting is the coming together of so many different partners to complete all the projects: Rotary, Boy Scouts, private donors and the Community Foundation.
“Our mission of conserving our land while increasing attendance at Preserve events has always been a challenging one since increased access can lead to negative environmental impacts. This makes the composting toilets especially helpful as it helps us serve more people without harming the lake or requiring infrastructure that disturbs the land. While it has long been our goal to add trails, it was especially gratifying to have a project that linked existing trails, which again, minimized the impact on our land.”
With an emphasis placed on education, the Preserve also tailors programs, such as tree identification and water testing, to youth. Since January, the Preserve has served more than 1,000 individuals through its education and outreach efforts. Overall, more than 11,000 patrons have visited the venue since it opened in 2006.
“The reason why it’s unique is because it is a pristine environment that is offered to anyone, but right now we’re geared towards ... students,” said Preserve Vice Chairperson Stan Bearden, who also is a member of the Rotary Club of Cartersville. “We have on the average about 2,000 kids a year to come through and they can experience an undisturbed natural habitat and we’ve got a certified instructor. She’s a teacher in science and she offers instruction on biology, treeology, wildlife habitat.
“... [At the Preserve], you can learn appreciation for the environment and you can observe things that cannot be observed in a shopping center, a school or a church. It’s a natural habitat. So education is No. 1,” he said, referring to the Preserve’s objectives. “Preservation is a close second because we want to keep that educational opportunity, not limit it just to today’s children but [tomorrow’s] children. As more and more areas are developed in the county, there’s going to be fewer and fewer undisturbed natural habitats whereby education can be observed direct with wildlife, plant growth and aquatic environments.”
For information about the Preserve and membership opportunities, visit www.pettitpreserve.org or contact Robertson at 678-848-4179. The venue’s summer programming includes Reptile Roundup June 7, Youth Fishing & Outdoor Camps June 11 and 13, and Damsels & Dragons Aug. 16. Admission to Reptile Roundup or Damsels & Dragons will be $3 for each person, with the maximum cost being $10 per family, and free to Preserve members.