“They were all squished, and their shells were broken,” said Cole, who lives with his family in the small city of Ventura. “We felt really sad for them.”
The two boys climbed off their bikes and began helping other small turtles that were slowly (very slowly) crossing to the other side of the road looking for new nesting spots.
“We picked up one in each hand and took them across, then we went back for some more,” Cole said. “We spent the whole day out there, saving turtles.”
Pretty soon, the brothers were joined by three friends: Kasen Wenzel, 8, Keygan Hoover, 9, and Zacaious Moe, 11, who had come up on their bikes. They said they wanted to help, so the boys decided they would spend as much time as they could this summer giving turtles a lift across the road.
“We’re helping the turtles to see a lot of extra days, and that makes me feel happy,” Keygan said.
The boys are still at it, spending at least an hour or two a day (often more) scooping up western painted turtles that cross between the marsh and the lake.
“They seem okay with us moving them, but they usually tuck their heads inside as soon as we pick them up,” Keygan added.
Spring and summer are busy seasons for turtles in the area that are looking for new nesting sites, according to fisheries biologist Scott Grummer of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources.
“When you have water on both sides of the road, that’s going to be a natural turtle crossing,” he said.
“What these kids are doing is wonderful, and I hope their love of conservation stays with them throughout their lives,” Grummer added. “It’s heartwarming that they’re using their summer break to help nature and protect turtles from getting hit by cars.”
The boys said they safely watch for turtles from a nearby bike path and cross the road themselves only if there’s no traffic. But occasionally, Kasen said, they’ll hold up their arms to stop a car if there are turtles on the move.
“You help a few across and then more show up,” he said. “There’s sure a whole bunch of turtles out there.”
He and the other boys estimate they’ve saved more than 200, and they don’t seem to mind that it’s cut into their fishing time.
“We do it because they’re living things — we don’t want to see them run over and killed,” Keygan said. “Most of them are really small, but we’ve seen big turtles, too.”
Snapping turtles get helped across with a little prodding from a stick, Blake said, adding, “We don’t want them to bite us.”
The boys efforts are now well known in Ventura, especially since the local Globe Gazette publicized their reptile rescues.
“It’s pancake city down there with turtles in the summer, so I was thrilled to hear that this little group of boys was trying to do something about it,” said Else Taylor, a former administrator for Ventura who has been aware of the turtle-crossing problem for years.
“These boys give me hope for the next generation,” she said. “What a way to spend the summer.”
A few years ago, Taylor was so concerned about the number of turtle deaths on the road into town that she installed a couple of turtle crossing signs.
“We have two spots in town with water on both sides of the road, and that’s where all the carnage happens,” she said. “Baby turtles are so small that some drivers don’t see them. Or people are busy looking at the lake and not paying enough attention. It’s been a problem here forever.”
The boys’ parents are proud of what they’re doing and happy that their kids are spending time outdoors with their friends.
“They have the best suntans you’ve ever seen in your life,” said Kasen’s mom, Katie Wenzel, 45, who runs a local restaurant and motel.
She said she’s been out several times with water and snacks to sustain the boys as they do their rescues.
“There have been times when they go out at 8:30 [in the morning] and come back at 6,” she said. “There are tons of turtles out there this year, and they’re really dedicated to seeing this through.”
Blake and Cole’s dad, Eric Meyer, said he’s seen as many as 40 or 50 turtles sunning themselves at times in the middle of the road.
“It’s not the best spot for them,” he said. “So if the boys want to help them, I’m all for it.”
His sons and their friends said they plan to keep up their rescue mission for the rest of the summer.
“We’ll have something cool now to tell people when we go back to school,” Keygan said.
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