Providing insight into “misunderstood creatures,” the Pettit Preserve will present the Learning to be Snake Safe program and hike Saturday.
“Snakes are one of those animals that people either love or hate, but I hear mostly from folks who are very afraid of them and many say they would kill a snake on sight,” Preserve Executive Director Marina Robertson said. “This is unfortunate since the vast majority of snake species are harmless to humans and even the venomous ones are not interested in being around us. However, in our warm climate, snake encounters are going to happen at times and having some knowledge of snakes can help make your snake encounter uneventful — and nonlethal for the snake.
“For example, knowing where in your yard and at what time of year you are most likely to come across snakes can help you take simple precautions to avoid a possible run-in with a snake. Knowing what snakes are venomous and what to do if you do encounter a snake can help prepare you to be levelheaded when it happens. These topics and more are what we will cover in our program as well as helping people understand how helpful snakes are to the environment and even to humans.”
During the event, Georgia Reptile Society Vice President Erin Zaballa and members Joey and Tammy Casey will lead snake-related discussions at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 and 1:30 p.m.
“The presentation will include information about snakes and snake safety, including what to do and what not to do when you encounter a wild snake, the laws protecting native snakes in Georgia, identifying the types of snakes we have in the area — venomous and nonvenomous, first aid for snake bites, understanding common snake behaviors and the benefits snakes provide in the ecosystem,” said Zaballa, who also serves as Pettit Preserve’s education assistant. “We will also be debunking some snake myths, and we’ll have live snakes available to view and touch.
“I hope that after attending, visitors will have a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, these misunderstood creatures.”
As Zaballa noted, the presenters also will introduce attendees to several snake species, including a red-tailed boa constrictor, California King snake and a milk snake.
“A rise in snake bites has been reported in Georgia this year,” Zaballa said. “Most experts believe that this was due to the short, mild winter we had. Because of the warmer weather, snakes were out and about earlier in the year and encountered people earlier than usual. In addition, there is always more development going on, so snakes are running out of habitat and are unable to avoid people. However, venomous snake bites are still quite rare and the risk of dying from a venomous snake bite in the U.S. [is] extremely low — the odds are about 1 in 50 million. You have a much greater chance of being struck by lightning — 1 in 700,000.
“Most bites occur when people intentionally approach snakes — trying to kill them — or when they don’t see them and step on them. When you are in areas where snakes are likely to be — in the woods, in brush or high grass, around wood piles, etc. — make sure you wear thick-soled, closed-toe shoes, and watch where you put your hands and feet. If you see a snake, simply back away and wait for it to leave. If it does not leave and you need it to move —for example, if it is on your front porch — a gentle spray from a safe distance with a garden hose will encourage it to move along.”
Along with its snake program, the Pettit Preserve will feature self-led hikes on its trails and children’s activities from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Hikers are urged to arrive prior to 4 p.m.
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.
The 70-acre venue, which is open to the general public during scheduled programs, consists of various trails, a swinging bridge, a 9.5-acre lake, two aquatic stations, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets and a Learning Shed. More than 18,000 patrons have visited the preserve or received outreach through its programs since the site opened in 2006.
“The fall programs are some of our most popular, because as the weather starts to cool down, folks are drawn outdoors,” Robertson said. “The leaves are beginning to take on their fall color and that is a big attraction as well. Visitors to the preserve appreciate how secluded it is — no traffic noise — and that you can easily find animal tracks and other signs on or around the trails.
“The best place to take in the fall color at the preserve is the Lake Pavilion, as you can look down the length of our 9.5 acre lake at the trees hugging the shore. We have picnic tables and some Adirondack chairs there to sit in to take in the view.”
Free to preserve members, Saturday’s program will cost $3 per person, with a maximum $10 fee per family.