"We're helping the turtles to see a lot of extra days, and that makes me feel happy," one of the young boys said.
Cole and Blake Meyer, two brothers from the small city of Ventura, Iowa, were on their way to fishing last month when they noticed something awful down the road. Upon stopping their bikes to investigate, the boys — aged 10 and 8 — saw a bunch of dead baby turtles, crushed by cars on the thoroughfare between two wetlands, Ventura Marsh and Clear Lake. "They were all squished, and their shells were broken," Cole told The Washington Post. "We felt really sad for them." Moved by the devastating sight, the young brothers climbed off their bikes and began helping other small turtles that were slowly making their way across to the other side of the road in search of new nesting spots.
A road separates a marsh and Clear Lake in Ventura, located in north central Iowa, posing a deadly hazard for turtles hoping to move between the two. So, five boys took it upon themselves to help, providing safe crossings for dozens of turtles. https://t.co/FRWLPtkRof— KCRG-TV9 (@KCRG) July 4, 2021
"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." Not long after, three of their friends joined in on the rescue efforts. Kasen Wenzel, 8, Keygan Hoover, 9, and Zacaious Moe, 11, had ridden by on their bikes, and after realizing what the Meyer boys were up to, offered to help them transport the turtles. The group of compassionate young friends decided that day that they would dedicate as much time as they could this summer to give turtles a lift across the road.
Here’s my latest piece for The Post. Turtles in a small Iowa town have better odds of survival thanks to five friends who made a pact to help them across the road. @washingtonpost https://t.co/4tXqtYuiAd— Cathy Free (@cathyjfree) July 27, 2021
"We're helping the turtles to see a lot of extra days, and that makes me feel happy," Keygan said. "They seem okay with us moving them, but they usually tuck their heads inside as soon as we pick them up." Fisheries biologist Scott Grummer of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources explained that spring and summer are busy seasons for turtles in the area that are looking for new nesting sites. "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."
These Iowa boys found turtles squashed on the road. Now they spend their days helping other turtles get across.— SFDB (@sfdb) July 28, 2021
"'We’re helping the turtles to see a lot of extra days, and that makes me feel happy,' Keygan said."
"It's heartwarming that they're using their summer break to help nature and protect turtles from getting hit by cars," Grummer added. The boys — who are still at it, spending at least an hour or two a day (sometimes more) escorting western painted turtles between the marsh and the lake — revealed that they safely watch for turtles from a nearby bike path and only cross the road themselves if there's no traffic. Occasionally though, 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." The boys estimate they've saved over 200 turtles so far, and although turtle duty has cut into their fishing time, the youngsters don’t seem to mind. "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."
The youngsters' dedication to protecting the turtles has won them many accolades in Ventura. "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. What a way to spend the summer. We have two spots in town with water on both sides of the road, and that’s where all the carnage happens. 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."
People who pick up turtles on the road to move them to safety are my kind of people. 💚🐢💚— Kelly (@kelly__le) July 23, 2021
The boys' parents are incredibly proud of how they're spending the summer. "They have the best suntans you've ever seen in your life," said Kasen's mom, Katie Wenzel. "There have been times when they go out at 8:30 [in the morning] and come back at 6. There are tons of turtles out there this year, and they’re really dedicated to seeing this through." The Meyer brothers and their friends 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.