The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

July 5, 2013

19 racing turtles sidelined in New Berlin

By Marcia Moore
The Daily Item

NEW BERLIN — The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission dashed the dreams of 19 turtle racers Thursday by banning wood and Eastern box turtles from competing at New Berlin’s annual Turtle Derby.

“Nooo,” said Dylan Conner, 9, when organizers pointed out that the two wood turtles he and his brother, Luke, 7, carried in separate white buckets are endangered.

The Jersey Shore boys took the rejection of their turtles from the competition in stride and listened intently as C. Tristan Stayton, an assistant professor in biology at Bucknell University, provided details about the turtles. Their grandmother, Diane Dershem, of Lock Haven, wasn’t as fascinated.

“I’m disappointed they couldn’t race them,” she said.

It’s the first time the family has attended the derby, but they plan to come back next year, possibly with a painted or snapping turtle, which are not on the state’s endangered list.

Just days ago, the Boy Scouts of Troop 508 were notified by the state commission that box and wood turtle species are now on the state’s protected list and would not be allowed to race at the annual event, which has been held for more than four decades.

That edict caused a few frowns, and even tears from one young participant, when organizers informed 19 of the 38 children who arrived at the derby with turtles that their entries were banned.

“It was a bit of a hiccup, but we’re trying to make the race an educational experience for the kids,” said Todd Bieber, who worked at the registration booth just hours after screening his 80-minute documentary, “Turtle Derby,” for 250 viewers at the Campus Theatre in Lewisburg.

The Winfield native, who won the derby 26 years ago and co-produced the movie with Juliana Brafa, said the turtle race is a wonderful experience for youngsters and hopes the ban on certain species won’t dampen enthusiasm for the event.

Derby emcee and past winner Zane Patterson, 12, of New Berlin, said he thinks the government may be taking it too far by forbidding kids to race certain turtles.

“They can just release them afterward,” he said.

That’s what the Conner boys planned to do, but first they had to rename one of their turtles — from Sheldon to Shelly — following their encounter with Stayton.