Amphibians take center stage at Pettit Environmental Preserve Saturday

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Striving to break down misconceptions surrounding the “last-loved” animals, Angela Ferguson will highlight amphibians and their plight to survive during the Pettit Environmental Preserve's Explore Nature Saturdays program Oct. 12.

A Cartersville resident, she is the Atlanta-based Amphibian Foundation’s volunteer education outreach instructor.

“When I ran across [the Amphibian Foundation] and saw the work that they were doing, I just really wanted to be a part [of the organization] and help out,” Ferguson said. “At the time, I was looking to start an education outreach program for some of the last-loved animals. So when I saw they already had an established program, I joined in with them and am trying to help expand their program up into north Georgia.

“I’ve always loved reptiles and amphibians. I’ve always thought they were beautiful and interesting creatures. … I remember having people come to our school with reptiles and teaching us about them. I think that really helped spark an interest. So I’m going to pass that along and help spark an interest in others the way it was sparked in me.”

Ongoing from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., the Amphibian Adventure Program & Hike will feature presentations by Ferguson at 10:30 and 11:30 a.m. and 12:30 p.m.

“We’ll talk about basically the decline of animals worldwide,” she said. “Amphibians particularly are declining quicker than most. So we’ll talk about why these animals are in decline.

“Then we’ll talk a little bit about small things that people can do to make a difference. We try to encourage people that we don’t have to just sit by and watch the animals disappear — that we can do something about it.”

To help amphibians thrive in their environment, Ferguson urges area residents to avoid planting invasive vegetation, properly dispose of chemicals and be “mindful” about what they pour down the sink.

“One of the main reasons [amphibians are declining] is they breath through their skin,” she said. “So they’re real susceptible to chemicals, pollution, things like that. So what we’re seeing happen is we’ve got animals disappearing from places where humans are cutting down environments and there’s pollution.

“But with amphibians in particular, we’re seeing them disappear from pristine environments, because the rain is carrying the water that contains contaminants and it’s basically killing off the animals — the frogs and the salamanders. Because they are absorbing that water so much through their skin, they’re just very sensitive to anything that’s in the water.”

Along with frogs, Ferguson will bring various animals to Pettit Preserve, such as an axolotl salamander and a tortoise. 

“I think a lot of times people have misconceptions about the animals, because they haven’t been able to really see them up close for themselves,” she said, adding their interest often is piqued in the creature when they learn more about it or take a closer look. “… People will push past their fear and touch something or hold something, and then they love it.”

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.

Open to the general public during scheduled programs, the 70-acre property consists of various trails developed by Switchbacks Trail Design & Construction, a lake, three amphitheaters, self-contained composting toilets, two aquatic stations and a Learning Shed.

Free to Pettit Preserve members, the Explore Nature Saturdays program will cost $3 per person, with a maximum $10 fee per family.

“The name amphibian means ‘both kinds of life’ because amphibians all start their lives in water but also live on land," Pettit Preserve Executive Director Marina Robertson said. "They start out with gills and most develop lungs so they can live outside of water, which sounds a bit like a superpower. Adult amphibians are carnivores and predators, which just means they hunt live prey for their food. The least well-known amphibians are caecilians — pronounced si-SILL-yuns — that look an awful lot like worms but have a bony skeleton and needle sharp teeth, which they use to eat worms and insects.

“When I choose [a] speaker for our programs, I always tell them that the most important thing they can share with people is their passion for the animals or topic involved. Nature is full of quirky facts and fascinating ecosystems, but for me the question is always, ‘Why should I care?’ I think Angela’s passion for amphibians will help people understand more about these truly amazing creatures and consider what they can do to prevent further loss of species.”

Since Pettit Preserve opened in 2006, more than 23,000 patrons have visited the venue or received outreach through its programs. In honor of its educational efforts, the site captured the 2018 Riverkeeper Outdoor Recreation Award from the Coosa River Basin Initiative March 28.

“Our second Saturday programs will continue as usual this fall, but we are in the process of completing our new education facility,” Robertson said. “As soon as we are able to finish it, we will have additional events to introduce the community to our expanded programs of education and outreach.”

Further details can be obtained about the Pettit Preserve and its Amphibian Adventure Program & Hike by visiting www.pettitpreserve.org or contacting Robertson at director@pettitpreserve.org or 678-848-4179.