NEW BERLIN — For almost 50 years, kids in one part of Union County have had a very unique 4th of July tradition–a turtle derby. But organizers say the race may not happen this year.
The activities committee in New Berlin was contacted last week by the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission. The conservation officer told the committee if any endangered turtles are brought to the derby, people will be cited and fined $250. Organizers say they are not sure if they will hold the annual event, which has some kids in New Berlin very upset.
Madison Zimmerman and her brother Tanner have been catching and racing turtles their whole lives in Union County. For the past 49 years, the community of New Berlin has held a turtle derby on the 4th of July.
“It’s fun. We won when we were little. We took second,” Madison Zimmerman said.
The Zimmermans might not get to race their pet turtles this year. Shirl Hummel is on the activities committee in New Berlin, which is near Mifflinburg. She says she was recently contacted by the state’s Fish and Boat Commission. The officer told her if someone brings an endangered turtle to the event this year, they will be cited and fined $250.
“Of course I was very upset. This is an event we hold every year and it’s enjoyed by everybody,” Hummel said.
Hummel got a list of six turtles that are considered rare or endangered. The list includes box and wood turtles.
“That’s our main turtles in the area that aren’t allowed,” Hummel said.
The Zimmermans believe Speedo is a painted turtle, which means he is eligible to compete in the turtle derby, but because of the spots on Deedee’s shell, they think Deedee may be a spotted turtle, which would make him prohibited. If they bring him to the turtle derby, they could get fined.
“It’s like sad because we did it since we were little,” Tanner Zimmerman said.
Hummel says the turtle derby is an event that dozens of people look forward to. She also says the turtles are well taken care of, and most are returned to the creek after the derby.
“I’ve seen children go to the creek to get creek water for their turtles so they aren’t in chlorinated water. They go online and find out what to feed them,” Hummel said.
The spokesperson for the PA Fish and Boat Commission told Newswatch 16 they will not be at the turtle derby and will not fine people. He said the Fish and Boat Commission wants to work with the event’s organizers to make sure people are educated about endangered animals.