Turtles getting hit by vehicles crossing into new metropark

Kelly J. Kaczala

       Snapping turtles are getting a raw deal with the development of Howard Marsh Metropark, which was just completed last month in Jerusalem Township.
        Traffic on Howard Marsh Road seems to not see the slow moving creatures as they make their treacherous journey across Howard Marsh Road, which divides the newly opened Phase 2 of Howard Marsh Metropark from Phase 1, which opened to the public a couple of years ago. Phase 2 has extensive wetlands, a fertile habitat for the turtles.
        “It’s an issue,” said Maggi Dandar, a local wildlife photographer who travels the road daily, and has seen several turtles get hit by vehicles.
        “I visit Howard Marsh and go down Dyke Road along the lakeside every day. The last two months, I’ve come across at least 10 snapping turtles trying to make their way from one side of Howard Marsh Road to the other side. These are turtles that I myself have personally seen. I’m sure there are many more I have not seen. Folks don’t seem to slow down for them on that road. The turtles are big. I’ve come across at least three that were hit by cars and left in the road to die. For the others, I have stopped traffic and gotten them off the road,” she said.
        And passing motorists aren’t too happy when she does stop, she said.
        “People get mad when I stop, put my flashers on. When motorists see that it’s `only a turtle,’ they get upset. I don’t like seeing turtles dead.”
        When she wasn’t finding them in the road, she knows of others who were seeing the same thing, she added.
Howard Marsh Metropark
        In 2008, Metroparks Toledo purchased nearly 1,000 acres of Howard Farms property in Jerusalem Township, north of State Route 2, bisected by Howard Road, to develop a new metropark. Last month, officials held a grand opening for the completion of the metropark, which was developed in two phases.
        In the spring of 2018, Metroparks Toledo opened Howard Marsh Phase 1 was a 752-acre park restoration project on the Howard Farms property, east of Howard Road and north of State Route 2. It provides significant benefits for habitat, water quality, and recreational opportunities. Benefits include restoration of nearly 600 acres of coastal marsh wetlands, over 100 acres of newly planted forests, treatment of 400 acres of residential storm water that previously discharged directly into Lake Erie, over six miles of new trails and over six miles of permanent blueway channels for paddling.
        Phase 2 saw the restoration of over 200 acres of new coastal wetlands west of Howard Road. It’s significant because it improves water quality and provides for wildlife habitat. But an unintended consequence of the new metropark is snapping turtles getting run over by traffic on Howard Road.
        No one could have anticipated the hazards to the slow moving reptile near the new park, though it’s been reported in other parts of the country.
        Since the development of Howard Marsh Metropark Phase 2, Dandar believes the turtles are just “confused about where they are supposed to be.”
        “It’s odd. They’re always going one way, - from the Howard Marsh Phase 2 that they just opened up, to Howard Marsh Phase 1 that they opened up a couple of years ago. The turtles are always going west to east. I never see them going back to the newer Howard Marsh side, it’s always in the opposite direction,” said Dandar.
        So what would she like to see happen to help out the turtles?
        Maybe a traffic sign that cautions motorists to look out for crossing turtles, and reducing the 55 mph speed limit on Howard Road, would help, she said.
        “The road does not have signs posted to be careful of snapping turtles or any other animals that habitat the marsh. Howard Road has a grocery store named Jack’s at the end. Everyone out there uses Jack’s. So it’s a very heavily trafficked road. We just need to get someone to post something or maybe change the speed limit along the Howard Marsh refuge.”
        Jerusalem Township Trustee Mark Sattler said he’s unaware of turtles getting hit on Howard Marsh Road. He said he would like to hear more from concerned residents and maybe help come up with a solution.
        “I have not heard that issue about snapping turtles,” he said. “One of the roads that branches off Howard Road leads back to my home. And on two different occasions, I’ve stopped in the middle of the road with my flashers on for painted turtles. They are a lot smaller than snapping turtles. I’ve picked them up and moved them off the road to the ditch they were heading to.”
        Sattler said he suspects the turtles heading towards Howard Marsh Phase 2 are being lured by a levy that surrounds the marsh.
        “They dug a marsh, and there’s a levy around it. They are only going to put a small amount of water in there for the first couple of years so the marshland fully has a chance to grow up, which is what they did in Phase 1. Once it’s a little more mature, they will raise the water level. I suspect there were some turtles that are in there, and for some reason, are choosing to cross from Phase 2 to Phase 1. If they are coming from Phase 1, which is just south of Jack’s market, they may be crossing from Phase 1 over to the new Phase 2 because Phase 2 isn’t really populated yet and there’s plenty of room for them to expand, lots more new territory over there. That probably makes more sense,” said Sattler.
        “There’s water on both sides, but Phase 1 is more established, and has a much bigger population. Maybe it’s a little crowded over there and you have some that are migrating to Phase 2,” he said.
        The part of Howard Marsh Road near Jack’s is 55 mph, he said.
        “If you keep going north, you get into a residential area where the speed limit drops, and it becomes a township road. But the road near Jack’s is a county road,” said Sattler.
        “If Maggi contacts me, I’ll call the county on her behalf and see what can be done,” said Sattler.


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