How Did the Turtle Cross the Road? With Help from City Engineers

A Stormwater Management Pond Project Creates a Unique Challenge for City Engineers

You know about the chicken. But a recent stormwater management project presented City of Rockville engineers with a question, and a challenge, of a whole different animal.

Turtles in Watkins Pond were crossing the road to get to – yes – the other side. The challenge: Get them there safely.

“We are doing the stormwater pond retrofit project at Watkins Pond,” said Gabe Kosarek, the city’s project manager. “When they drained the pond they were going to be working in, the turtles began migrating.”

Their destination was across the nearby road to an adjacent pond that had not been drained. While this was a good thing, and meant the turtles wouldn’t have to be unearthed during the winter while they hibernated in the mud, it also presented a problem.

Unlike human pedestrians, turtles didn’t have crosswalks. And unlike frogs, fish and other animals, it takes 10-15 years for turtles to reach reproductive age, making them a more sensitive population than other wildlife.

Staff at the city’s Croydon Creek Nature Center suggested that Kosarek contact the Mid-Atlantic Turtle and Tortoise Society (MATTS).

“It’s just a nice thing that the city was thinking about it,” said Ray Bosmans, a retired University of Maryland Extension specialist and president of MATTS.

Bosmans said that community members who see a turtle shouldn’t claim it as a pet, though the Maryland Department of Natural Resources has said it’s OK to move it to the adjacent pond.

Representatives of MATTS, whose mission includes placing displaced and unwanted turtles in “forever homes,” visited the site on two different occasions, helping a turtle cross the road on the first. On the second visit, there were no turtles to move and the migration appeared to have ended – possibly due to cooler temperatures limiting the turtles’ movement.

Engineers decided to forgo closing lanes to calm traffic and provide the turtles safe harbor, but went ahead with temporary turtle crossing signs that will remain in place through this fall’s construction.

turtlecrossing-turtle-ramps-filter-logs-dsc_0096

Filter logs serve as improvised ramps, helping turtles climb over curbs and safely out of the roadway.

In addition to the signs, staff placed filter logs against the curb to aid the turtles in climbing up and out of the roadway. Normally used to prevent sediment runoff, the mesh surface of the logs gives the turtle’s claws traction needed to climb into the grass.

Construction, which is intended, in part, to remove sediment buildup that has reduced the pond’s ability to slow water flow and reduce pollution from a 300-acre drainage area, is expected to continue until spring 2017, weather permitting. Learn more at www.rockvillemd.gov/watkinspondproject.

The project has spawned a new relationship for city engineers, Kosarek said.

“We will be working with MATTS in the future to try to have a more controlled migration of turtles on upcoming projects to reduce the potential for this sort of problem,” he said.

This article has been updated.

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