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Columns

Turtle races provide more than entertainment at the St. Charles Park District

The box turtles at Hickory Knolls Discovery Center normally do not shy away from attention. Among the several different species cared for by dedicated staff, the box turtles are used to all eyes on them, as they entertain families with their slow movements and gentle demeanor, and educate children during camps and in classrooms. They even travel offsite for educational purposes and events in the community.

But this November, five box turtles will embark on a new adventure: turtle racing.

Turtle Races presented by Hickory Knolls will take place during the Chicago Steel hockey game on Nov. 29. You won’t want to miss this family-friendly event -- the perfect way to slow down from all the turkey gobbling and Black Friday shopping.

Competing for the turtle racing championship will be three-toed box turtles Daisy and Sally Jane, eastern box turtles Mertle and Commander Winkydink, and an ornate box turtle Samsonite. Who will be declared the winner is anyone’s guess, but you can be a part of the action by picking which turtle you believe will crawl across the finish line first.

Before the puck drops at 6:05 p.m., guests will have an opportunity to meet and interact with the box turtles in the lobby.  Hickory Knolls staff members will be on hand to educate attendees about each turtle and once you’ve decided who will be the winner, you’ll receive a player’s card with stats including their personal stories, breed characteristics, and fun facts such as quirks and temperament. Those who pick the winner will receive a free Colonial Café turtle sundae, redeemable at either St. Charles location.

While the event promises to be entertaining, staff at both Hickory Knolls and Chicago Steel agree they hope guests also walk away with a new appreciation of turtles.

“Turtles have a reputation for being slow and not dynamic, but they are an incredibly valuable species in the wild,” said Pam Otto, St. Charles Park District outreach ambassador and naturalist.

“We approached Hickory Knolls to partner on Turtle Races for their expertise and guidance,” said Chicago Steel Hockey Team President Dan Lehv. “Not only will the races be exciting and fun to watch, we hope guests go home with a better understanding of turtles and their impact on the environment. It’s a good opportunity to bring that to light in a fun way.”

There will be two races, one during each intermission. The winners of the first race will compete for the championship during the second race. The racetrack will be circular, about five feet in diameter on a platform covered with artificial turf for traction.

Turtle racing is not a new concept and in recent years has been a trendy form of entertainment in Chicago restaurants and bars. But it is a first for the Chicago Steel and Hickory Knolls. All involved ensure the practice is safe for the turtles.

For one, the five turtles were chosen to compete because they are used to traveling and being handled.

“All of these turtles are frequently used in educational programs including in classrooms and camps and offsite turtle events,” Otto said. “They are used to commotion and kids wanting to touch them. For that reason, it is not stressful on them to make a trip to the ice arena.”

Otto emphasized that Hickory Knolls turtles are not wild. “They were once pets, but were relinquished to us by former owners who couldn’t properly care for them. Any practice of capturing a wild turtle in a pond for the purpose of racing would be inhumane and unhealthy for the turtle.”

Hickory Knolls staff also will make preparations to acclimate the box turtles to the cooler temperatures in the ice arena, by gradually introducing the cooler air to keep their temperature stable.

If after the game you find yourself wanting more, save the date for Hickory Knolls Turtle Racing and Brew Tasting April 17, 2020 – a fundraiser for the center’s animal ambassadors and education programs.

Tickets start at just $10 and parking is free.  To purchase tickets, visit the Steel Box Office at Fox Valley Ice Arena, call 855-51-STEEL or purchase online at ChicagoSteelHockeyTeam.com.

For more information regarding the turtles or Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, contact Pam Otto at 630-513-4346 or potto@stcparks.org.

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