Braves, Boy Scouts help save turtles at stadium site
by Hannah Morgan
January 26, 2014 12:08 AM | 4635 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
One of the Yellow Belly Pond Sliders rescued from the draining pond on the site of the future Braves Stadium.

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Staff/Todd Hull
One of the Yellow Belly Pond Sliders rescued from the draining pond on the site of the future Braves Stadium.
Staff/Todd Hull
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MARIETTA — Hours after Atlanta Braves executive Mike Plant closed on the 57-acre parcel of land on which the new Braves stadium will be built, a small group of Boy Scouts stood huddled in the cold, holding turtles who had called the property home.

The Braves completed the purchase of the land Friday afternoon, agreeing to pay $34 million to Bethesda, Md.-based B.F. Saul Co. for the property, and construction is officially underway.

Before construction crews can start bringing in the equipment to build the new $672 million stadium, the land needs to be surveyed, said Derek Schiller, the executive vice president of sales and marketing for The Braves.

The roughly 20-year-old, man-made pond on the site, which had previously been a parking lot, needed to be drained before the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could come and survey the grounds, said Tom Simpson, of Jones Lang LaSalle, a Chicago-based consulting firm.

On Wednesday, the Braves installed a long, black tube into a small pond on the property, which has been siphoning off water at a rate of roughly 2 inches per hour, said Schiller, and dropping it into a pond across the street.

They weren’t mandated to do anything with the wildlife on the property, he added. It was an act of stewardship to “do the right thing,” he said, and make sure the wild creatures living on the property remained safe and happy.

So, on Saturday afternoon, with temperatures in the low 40s, members from The Atlanta Braves, The Boy Scouts of America, The National Park Service and various consulting firms stood and watched for turtles.

The Boy Scouts are headquartered mere yards from where the new stadium will stand, and it seemed only natural to involve them in the process of finding a new home for the turtles and geese, Schiller said.

Boy Scouts invited to help save wildlife

Burrowed in the mud, beneath a thin layer of ice and a slowly-depleting body of water, were hundreds of turtles, said Marcus Rubenstein, a project manager with Woodard and Curran, a Duluth-based environmental consulting firm.

Not necessarily native to Georgia, but important nevertheless to the local wildlife population, the area around the soon-to-be stadium was home to a number of turtles, including yellow-bellied sliders, red-eared sliders, painted and snapping turtles, Rubenstein said.

During the winter, turtles bury themselves in mud to stay warm, and go into a pseudo-hibernation state. When the sunlight warms the top portion of whatever water they are living in, the turtles come to the surface to warm up, which is where Rubenstein hoped to catch them.

A number of consultants with his firm waded in the shallow pond, and used nets to pick turtles up and bring them to shore, where members of Boy Scout Troop 4900 of Woodstock, stood waiting with plastic totes to keep the turtles warm.

They were handed bright blue gloves, and passed around a number of turtles, while they asked biologists from Woodard and Curran questions about the cold-blooded creatures.

Thirteen-year-old

Graham Dick thought holding the turtles was “cool,” and learned only male turtles have extraordinarily long nails.

They use their long nails to impress female turtles during the mating process, and some sea turtles can live up to 200 years, Dick learned.

Davis Dodd, 12, is using the experience toward his Star Rank in the Scouts, which requires 6 hours of service to achieve, he said.

It was his first time holding turtles, and they were much smaller than he was expecting them to be, he said.

“I liked holding the turtles, I got the baby turtle to poke its head out! It must have felt the warmth through my gloves,” said 11-year-old Jay Cookson.

After an hour and a half of pulling up turtles, the crew had gathered about 15, Rubenstein said.

The group packed into the minivans and trucks and headed down the road to an 80-acre wetland at Cochran Shoals, part of the Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, said Allyson Read, a biologist with the National Park Service.

There, they released their turtles into the wildlife preserve along the river, where they will remain safe from man-made development.

“It’s perfect, prime turtle habitat,” Rubenstein said.

A Muscovy Duck, named “Big Sassy” was moved Friday to a new home in a private residential pond down the road, Schiller said.

Two mallards are likely to relocate to a pond across the street, and all animals are expected to remain close by the new stadium Schiller said.

“They’re still Cobb County ducks,” Schiller said.

Once the pond is drained, engineers will come to inspect the bottom of the pond to determine how the construction process will continue, said Simpson.

It is unknown what the site the pond is on will look like when the stadium is expected to be opened in 2017. It could be green space, or maybe a parking lot, but in the meantime, Schiller said The Braves wanted to make sure as much wildlife as possible remained safe.

“The Scouts can learn so much here,” said Tom Wilson, the director of support services for the Boy Scouts.

It was important for the boys to learn about stewardship, alien and invasive species and biology, he said, and despite the cold weather, he was happy for the learning opportunity.

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