Joe Stevens often rides his bike on the trail along the George Washington Memorial Parkway, south of Alexandria. Last Sunday as he rode near Dyke Marsh, an 800-acre federal wildlife sanctuary along the parkway, he spotted something unusual - branches protruding out of the water with a coil and scraps of meat attached to it.

An Alexandria conservationist, Stevens recognized the branches as turtle traps. He notified the National Park Service, which verified that the traps were illegal.

On Monday night, stevens staked out the area of the turtle traps. Spotting two men in a boat near the traps about 8 p.m., Stevens called the Park Police, who arrived and found two Richmond area men retrieving their catch, six large snapping turtles, from the traps.

As a helicopter hovered overhead, Park Police Officer Matt Hall shouted over a bullhorn of the men to return to shore.

According to National Park Service spokesman, George Berklacy, the men said they were unaware that it is illegal to hunt turtles in the marsh. There are no signs posted in the perserve prohibiting wildlife hunting, he said.

The two men returned the turtles which some restaurants and seafood stores buy for about $20 each, to the water and pulled up 60 turtle traps that they had placed in the water, according to Berklacy and Stevens.

Berklacy said no charges were placed against the two men because police believed they were unaware of the law. But they were warned against future turtle hunting in the area, he said.

Berklacy said the men told police they were catching turtles for their own use in turtle soup. "There was no indication that they had a market for it," he said.

Stevens said the snapping turtles, which average about 18 inches and can weigh up to 36 pounds, have become a popular delicacy in soups, steaks and stews.

Stevens said there were "turtle nappers" in Dyke Marsh about five years ago, but they soon disappeared after the turtle traps were removed and surveillance was increased.

He said he discovered 50 additional turtle traps yesterday and alerted Park Police of this new find.

Berklacy said the Park Service plans to post signs prohibiting hunting for any wildlife in Dyke Marsh. He said the penalty for convicted of wildlife hunting on any National Park Service property is a $500 fine, six months in jail or both.

Dyke Marsh is a popular spot for bird-watchers and nature lovers. Located along the parkway just south of the Capitol Beltway, the marsh is the home for various animals, including foxes, raccons, beaxers and deer.