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updated: 5/6/2014 5:29 AM

Vernon Hills trying to help turtles cross roads safely

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  • Vernon Hills has put up a temporary turtle crossing sign on Hazeltime Drive in the upscale Greggs Landing subdivision.

      Vernon Hills has put up a temporary turtle crossing sign on Hazeltime Drive in the upscale Greggs Landing subdivision.
    Mick Zawislak | Staff Photographer


Yellow diamond-shaped signs recently installed on Hazeltime Drive warn of animals crossing, but not the types that are prone to dart into the paths of vehicles or cause heavy damage if struck.

Instead, Vernon Hills officials want drivers to be aware of turtles that in coming weeks are expected to begin inching their way across the quiet side street in the well-appointed Gregg's Landing subdivision. Call it a mission of mercy.

"We did have a significant amount of carnage last year," said David Brown, public works director and village engineer.

Several dozen turtles were run over, and by the time the village became aware, the nesting season was ending. This season, Brown hopes to improve their chances.

"It's significant enough that we thought it was important to at least alert motorists that there are turtles," he said. "They can slow down and they can watch out for them."

The temporary signs were created in the village's public works building and will be installed each year in April and removed in September. That gives plenty of advance notice to drivers on the short street to prepare for when female turtles begin the trek to nesting sites.

"Pretty much the month of June is the most dangerous time to be a turtle," said Gary Glowacki, a wildlife biologist with the Lake County Forest Preserve District.

"We've had numerous requests from subdivisions. It seems like the awareness of turtles crossing roads has been increasing," he said.

During a drought a few seasons ago, the forest district placed temporary turtle crossing signs on Ela Road near the Cuba Marsh Forest Preserve as turtles were forced to find other water sources. There is a permanent turtle crossing sign on River Road south of Roberts Road near the Fox River Forest Preserve, but Glowacki didn't know its history.

"It's still a pretty uncommon practice," he said.

Jon Nelson, engineer of traffic for the Lake County Division of Transporation, said the policy is to limit animal crossing signs to areas where there is a history of crashes primarily due to animal/vehicle collisions. If overused, drivers lose respect for the signs, he said.

In Vernon Hills, the source of the turtles is the Seavey Ditch, a 5-mile channel that begins in downtown Mundelein and flows to Indian Creek.

When Gregg's Landing was developed, three box culverts were built to carry the Seavey Ditch beneath Hazeltime Drive. In 2010, the village transformed the farmer's ditch in that area into a meandering stream to create and protect the habitat for plants and animals.

That has meant more turtles, particularly last year, Brown said. Nature tells them to head east, but they have been bypassing the culverts to travel on the ground and over the road.

Glowacki said the turtles prefer open and southern exposed slopes with gravel or sandy soil. The most common turtles in Lake County are painted and snapping turtles, the latter having a rough appearance with a sharp beak and jagged top shell.

"They can snap a small twig in half. It's nothing you'd want to try and find out," Glowacki said.

Vernon Hills is encouraging drivers to leave the turtles alone and not move them. Glowacki and others say that's the best policy as driver safety is the biggest concern. But if the road is not a main thoroughfare and one is compelled, there are some rules of thumb:

• Don't grab them by the tail, which is an extension of the spine and can cause damage, Glowacki said. Also, all turtles can bite and their necks can reach around further than you think.

• Turtles need to be lifted in a particular way to avoid damaging them. When handling them, grab by the back third of the shell, and they won't be able to reach you.

• Finally, if you must move them, put them on the side of the road in the direction they were headed. If moved backward, a turtle will try to cross the road again.

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