The creatures in William Land Regional Park’s Boat Lake Pond became the subject of a mass evacuation Sunday morning as volunteers arrived to move them to safety before workers drained the lake to begin renovations.
The pond was inhabited by turtles, ducks, geese, carp, koi and bass, all of which were in the way of plans to drain the water, dredge out the sludge covering the bottom and deepen the pond. In April, the Sacramento City Council assured concerned citizens that the turtles would be saved in both Land Park and a similar project in McKinley Park.
Judy McClaver, who keeps a close eye on wildlife in McKinley and Land parks, said she showed up at 7:30 a.m. to move the animals. She started with the six geese, who had to be herded out of the fence enclosure surrounding the construction site.
“You have to make yourself look like a big bird,” she said. She took a long-handled net in each hand and held them out as if she had wings to convince the birds to move.
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Then she and Front Street Animal Shelter staff helped scoop turtles out of the water, eight in all. McClaver said she’s counted somewhere between 20 and 25 turtles in the park in the past and she’s worried more are hiding in the mud who will be hurt when the sludge is removed from the pond.
The thick mud covering the bottom is primarily composed of waterfowl droppings – and deepening the bottom is intended to help prevent algae and bacteria build-up from the droppings. The Land Park and McKinley Park projects will cost a combined $971,537.
McClaver and the shelter staff also moved seven domesticated ducks to another pond in the park. The waterfowl will be allowed to return to Boat Lake Pond after the construction is complete. The turtles are a different story because many of them are nonnative red-eared sliders, and it’s illegal for the city to return them to the water.
The turtles ended up in the park because people buy them not realizing they can live for 30 years and then abandon them. They’re also prolific animals who multiply quickly once a few are introduced.
Julian LeForestier, 14, was at the animal shelter Sunday because his pet turtle was accidentally released into the pond about a year ago. The red-eared slider, named Chris, occasionally escaped from his backyard enclosure.
“One of our neighbors found him and dumped him in the Land Park pond, thinking she was doing him a favor,” he said. He knows what Chris looks like and was hoping to find him among the turtles recovered Sunday. Chris was not among the turtles at the shelter, but LeForestier plans to go back to the pond to look for him again.
In the meantime, he adopted a small female turtle, thinking Chris might have been looking for a female companion when he left the backyard.
McClaver has removed about 55 turtles from McKinley Park in preparation for construction, which should begin next week, she said. She thinks there are about 20 left.
As of Sunday afternoon, the shelter had fewer than 10 turtles left in big plastic pools in the back as Sacramentans have turned out to help the little creatures. Some people took a bunch of turtles at one time, staff said, because they already had big backyard enclosures where the turtles could live.
Some of the life in the pond didn’t make it – the carp were allowed to die after they were pulled out. But two big koi fish were saved, and a Land Park Volunteer Corps member was able to take them in.
Craig Powell, who is also the president of watchdog group Eye on Sacramento, had two koi stolen out of a pond at a rental property on 21st Street. Another volunteer corps member gave him a call, and Powell came down to the shelter right away to chauffeur the fish to their new home.