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Thursday, May 22, 2014

Fundraising campaign aimed at protecting the Kingstowne turtles

Turtles “playing Frogger” on Kingstown Village Parkway are in danger of getting hit by cars. The situation is also dangerous for drivers who risk causing an accident as they try to avoid hitting the turtles—as well as the people running onto the road to help them.

Jessica Bowser, a resident of Kingstowne in the Alexandria area of Fairfax County, began noticing lots of snapping turtles—including some huge ones—crossing the busy road last spring and embarked on a campaign to protect them.

At one point, she saw people trying to pick up a two-foot snapper that weighed about 60 pounds and move it out of harm’s way. It started kicking and trying to bite. “I was really concerned,” Bower says. “You can’t move those things. That wasn’t the correct way to handle a turtle. Cars were zooming past. It was very dangerous.”

Bower’s was unable to get the Kingstowne Residential Owners Association to put up a “turtle crossing” sign by the road to alert drivers to be careful.

Over the next 10 months Bowser contacted “every single government agency I could think of” in the search for a solution to protect the turtles. She testified on behalf of the turtles before the Northern Virginia Soil and Water Conservation District and the Fairfax County Environmental Quality Advisory Council

Snapping turtle [Wikipedia photo]
None of those agencies have agreed to fund turtle crossing signs, so Bowser is spearheading an online donation drive. Her goal is to raise $515 for two signs—one on each side of the road—which would cover the costs of the sign poles, installation, and shipping, as well the signs themselves. So far, the Friends of Kingstowne Turtles fundraising campaign has gotten pledges for $400.

Turtles in Kingstowne Village Parkway are not a rare occurrence. During the spring, “every time you drive down that road, it would be more likely than not that you would see a turtle,” she says.

Bowser, a former teacher, developed an appreciation for turtles when she had some in her fourth-grade classroom. She current shares her home with three turtles—an eastern painted turtle, a western painted, and a river cooter.

From wildlife experts she learned that every spring, the female snapping turtles cross Kingstowne Village Parkway at a certain spot to get to their nesting site to lay eggs.

There’s a stream under the road, but directing turtles to use that route wouldn’t work because it’s the turtles’ natural instinct to head in the direction of higher ground, Bowser says. A wildlife biologist determined it doesn’t make sense to try to relocate them.

“I never expected this to turn into such a big project,” Bower says. “It’s been a long and frustrating process. I care a lot about it. I don’t want to give up.”

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