New road signs warn drivers of crossing turtles

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Why do the turtles cross the road? Because it's nesting season.

The problem is many of them risk getting crushed under cars along the way. So a group of residents in one Rockland County neighborhood is fighting to save the state reptile -- the snapping turtle.

The Rockland Highway Department installed turtle crossing signs Wednesday as part of an effort to save a population of snapping turtles on the border of West Nyack and Blauvelt.

They migrate from a nearby lake to lay their eggs near Western Highway.

Residents have put up signs hoping drivers will slow down, and last year, at the recommendation of a turtle expert and with money donated from Suez Water, they installed silt fences and created mounds of dirt to encourage the turtles to lay their eggs without crossing the road.

"This animal is like a living dinosaur," says Patricia Johnson, of the Center for Reptiles and Amphibians. 

And like the dinosaurs, the snapping turtle population was declining fast, Johnson says.

"I feel like these turtles are our neighbors," says Blauvelt resident Carolyn Hill. "We should love our neighbors."

Hill says last year's efforts were very successful.

"We had zero fatalities," she says.

So this year, the community has stepped up its campaign even further, extending the fence, installing more dirt piles and adding more signs warning drivers of turtle crossings.

And the turtles, experts say, have a role in cleaning up the local drinking water supply.

"They are able to process heavy metals in their body," Johnson says. "They can even carry large levels of mercury. So they are actually serving as our water filters."

So next time you see a turtle crossing, slow down.

"And do the best you can to save them," advises Wayne Leibesberger, another Blauvelt resident.

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