The Pettit Creek experience
A guest might do a doubletake when greeted by a jolly, white-bearded man driving a golf cart tricked out like a Christmas sleigh, and a glance to one side reveals a pasture populated by antlered reindeer. That man is not who they think he is; it’s Scott Allen, owner of Pettit Creek Farms of Cartersville, Georgia. However, like Santa himself, Allen presides over a sort of magical land of his own, a place that brings joy to the hearts of young and old alike, not just at Christmas, but all year round.
The farm’s Pumpkin Fest, going on through the month of October, is like a rural fair, but with plenty of eye-popping surprises. With exotic animals at every turn, this is not what one might expect to find in Bartow County, but here it is, in easy driving distance of most Northwest Georgia locales.
During Pumpkin Fest, an array of festive events and games are available. Besides a corn maze to explore, there’s a petting zoo, scarecrow building, haybale steer roping, and games like corn hole, ring toss, duck races, a stick pony race, and stump tic-tac-toe. Customers can also try their hand at clay crafts at the potter’s studio or pounding a hammer at the blacksmith’s shop.
For the more daring souls, there are adventures to be had overhead. The farm has a state-of-the-art aerial course through the trees. This gives customers a chance to view the farm from above. There’s a swinging bridge, cargo nets, a log bridge, and thrilling ziplines. All the necessary safety protocols are observed, and instructions are given by fully trained guides before visitors ascend into the trees.
From farm to flood to farm again
For generations, the Allens have been farmers. Sadly, the original family farm, like many others, is now sitting at the bottom of Lake Allatoona, courtesy of the Flood Control Acts of the 1940s. After the government gave Scott Allen’s grandparents, Raymond and Fannie Mae Allen, no choice but to move, they bought acreage along Cartersville’s Pettit Creek and reestablished their agrarian life there.
At first, the farm produced mules, cotton, and corn, then later, cattle. These days, combines and farmhands have been supplanted by hayrides and gawking children. Rows of cotton have been replaced by loping camels and grazing zebra.
Adapt or die
When the baton for running Pettit Creek Farms passed to Scott Allen, he knew he had to diversify his family’s means of income. Considering the uncertain varieties of weather and produce prices, traditional farming was becoming more and more of a gamble in the region.
The first indication that things could change came when Allen started taking a trailerful of ponies to fairs to give pony rides to children. At first, that failed to prove lucrative — the ponies tended to eat into the profits, literally — but the day he added a zebra to the mix, the tide began to turn. People were fascinated with the zebra and would pay to see it.
A lightbulb came on in Allen’s imagination. A variety of animals: that’s where the money was. He began assembling a menagerie, a traveling petting zoo: sheep, goats, mules, etc. The petting zoo continued making the rounds of county fairs and other outdoor events until it occurred to Allen that it would be far more cost-effective to draw the customers to the farm rather than driving the farm to the public. That is when Pettit Creek Farms began the slow transformation to the funfest attraction it now is.
Lying in church
When asked how he first came to own camels, Allen confesses that it came from a lie he told in church. Some thirty years ago, a local congregation was planning a Christmas pageant and wanted a Nativity scene that pulled out all the stops. They hired Scott Allen to provide all the requisite manger scene animals: sheep, goats, donkeys, and even (oddly) a llama.
Someone at the church mentioned in passing how much she wished they had a camel for the show. Allen asked her how much she would pay to rent one. She named a price that he liked, then she asked, “You don’t have a camel, do you?” Allen did not own any camels — not one — but when he thought about how much the church would pay to rent one, he said, “Sure, I have a camel!” It took him several months to find one, but he finally succeeded.
After Allen procured the promised camel, he only had a few weeks before the Christmas program would be performed. The problem was, he had no idea if the animal could be trained to do what it needed to do, safely. The pageant was going to be inside the church sanctuary, so the last thing anyone needed was a giant, ungainly animal galloping down the aisle, out of control.
The camel had to be trained and tested, in short order. Inspired with an unconventional idea, Allen took the camel to his grandmother’s house, which was still fully furnished, though no one lived there. Allen and a few young men walked the camel, carefully, slowly, all through the house to make sure it could navigate an interior space without an unfortunate incident.
When the camel, at last, was in the yard again, the interior of the house was still perfectly intact. The giant beast had passed the test, and it went on to perfectly perform in the pageant’s Nativity scene. There were no stampedes, no ladies’ hats were eaten, and no one got kicked or spat upon.
That Christmas camel three decades ago was the first of many. At present, Pettit Creek Farms has about eighteen camels in its herd, and new calves are born now and again. They are a favorite attraction at the farm.
At one point in the farm’s lengthy hayride, the wagon stops and customers are invited to disembark and hand-feed the camels. For those who want an even more up-close-and-personal experience with the huge animals, camel rides are available.
A day out, fun for everybody
Whether it’s a school field trip, a family outing, or a fun date for two, Pettit Creek Farms offers plenty to see and do. The best way to see the whole farm is to take the 110-foot-long double trailer hayride that circumnavigates the property, giving guests a full guided tour, and it’s a great way to see all the animals.
Besides the typical farm animals such as sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, ducks, and donkeys, the farm has lots of creatures not often seen in Northwest Georgia. There are kangaroos, zebra, llamas, reindeer, and, of course, camels. Living on a little peninsular hill that juts out into a pond is a family of South American capybaras, which look like hog-sized guinea pigs. There are huge flightless birds, too: emus and rheas. Watching over all this is the star of the show, a giraffe named George.
Some of the animals can be rented. Reindeer, for instance, are a great addition to Christmas events. Also, Pettit Creek Farms rents out all the stable animals requisite to bring any Nativity scene to life (and the camels are still exceptionally well-behaved).
Ingenuity and reinvention
Driving his Christmas sleigh golf cart past a corn maze, sunflowers, zebra and a giraffe, Scott Allen seems to be a combination of Santa Claus, Noah and the proverbial Farmer Brown, but in the final analysis he’s a businessman.
He’s someone who can see an opportunity and give it a try. If it works, great, if it doesn’t, that’s okay too — he just moves on to the next challenge. When asked what his plans are for the future of the family farm, Allen smiles and says, “Whatever people will pay for.” And whatever that is, he will try it.
Allen is a blacksmith, a potter, a welder, a sculptor, a zookeeper, a storyteller, a tour guide — the list goes on. He is not afraid to try anything. He loves learning new skills. Allen says, “Anything one man can learn to do, anyone can learn to do.”
He and his family know how to adapt to survive, even finding a way to continue operating through the hardships of a global pandemic and coming out the other side stronger than ever. One step at a time, the farm keeps reinventing itself.
As with Noah, the story of Pettit Creek Farms began with a great flood, and like the legend of Father Christmas, the story continues by bringing wonder into the lives of countless children. Now that the next generation of the family, Scott Allen’s children Chris Allen and Candace Hillhouse, are taking ever-increasing leadership roles in the farm’s operations, Pettit Creek Farms is sure to provide exciting outings for the public for many years to come.