Lake County students successfully push for 'turtle crossing' signs
Two Lake County eighth-graders are working with local governments to help turtles survive treacherous roadway crossings during mating season.
Grayson Becker and Ben Grasmick -- students at Prairie Crossing Charter School in Grayslake -- have persuaded officials in Fremont Township and Gurnee to install "turtle crossing" signs warning drivers on roads near turtle habitats.
It's especially important now because mating season began this month for the Blanding's turtle, a species considered endangered in Illinois. Through June, female turtles will be on the move more than usual as they search for high, dry spots to lay eggs.
The boys' turtle-protection campaign is part of a project that's required for graduation at Prairie Crossing.
"We were told we could do anything to help our community, so we looked at a list of Illinois endangered species and saw the Blanding's turtle," Ben said. "It was obvious these small, defenseless creatures needed our help."
Ben and Grayson worked with Lake County Forest Preserve District staffers to research the problem. The boys agreed roadside signs for people driving near turtle habitats would be a good way to protect the slow-moving reptiles.
"I knew that we needed to bring public awareness to our community," Grayson said.
The boys chose to approach the Fremont Township and Gurnee boards because they live in those communities. Additionally, Grayson's stepfather is Fremont Township Highway Commissioner Bill Grinnell.
The duo made their pitch to the Gurnee village board last month. Signs reading "CAUTION WILDLIFE CROSSING" and "CAUTION TURTLE CROSSING" subsequently were installed on Dada Drive near Hadley Circle, not far from the Bittersweet Golf Club.
Mayor Kristina Kovarik said Ben and Grayson made a compelling case.
"They did their homework," Kovarik said. "It's up to all of us to help these creatures out so they're around, for us and for future generations."
The boys lobbied the Fremont Township board last week. Township officials were prepared, having already ordered a pair of large yellow signs featuring turtle silhouettes and the words "TURTLE XING."
The signs have since gone up on Owens Road between Gilmer Road and Schwermann Road. Natural wetlands flank both sides of the road there, which makes it a popular crossing spot for turtles, Grinnell said.
Grinnell hopes the signs will help the turtles thrive.
"As we get more and more people and vehicles, it's more and more difficult to protect some of these species," Grinnell said. "And people (today) are more aware and care."
With the signs now up in Gurnee and Fremont Township, Grayson and Ben would like to see more communities take similar action.
"Our goal for our project is to save the Blanding's turtle from extinction and help the turtle population as a whole," Grayson said.