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When the Sunday newspaper arrives and one of the big stories on the cover of the Northwest Arkansas section is about the demise of turtle races in several towns, it is by definition a slow news day.

We don't mean that in the pejorative sense. From time to time critics of newspaper coverage will offer sarcasm-laced commentary whey they see a story they don't care for, suggesting it "must have been a slow news day" for the newspaper to assign a reporter on the subject matter at hand.

What’s the point?

The end of turtle races in Harrison and other communities is a step in the right direction for people who care about Arkansas wildlife.

But this story from Harrison and nearby communities was fascinating. The very idea of turtle races, indeed, inspires a touch of cognitive dissonance, the same reaction if someone were to sponsor a 5k run for snails or a "Jeopardy" episode for kindergartners. Inviting someone to a race immediately conjures images of people or vehicles zooming past at their top speeds.

Turtle races, even at their top speeds, might allow spectators a trip to the post office, grocery store and state revenue office between the starting pistol and the winning turtle's victory at the finish line.

So, yeah, we get the irony, even more so with turtles than with other Arkansas towns' offerings of turkey drops or mule jumps.

Reporter Bill Bowden outlined how turtle races had, over the last century, been popular at some as a kids activity at county fairs and other community events in the nation's heartland. The turtles are usually placed within a marked circle on the ground, and the first turtle that crawls out of the circle is the winner.

All in good fun, right?

We can just imagine how it all got started. Some community promoter tries to gin up ideas for some excitement at the town gathering, but doesn't have much in the way of money. Let's have a race, he says. But people don't necessarily have the wherewithal to spend lots of money on a horse or one of those Model A's. What about something everyone can find? Hey, there are turtles everywhere, right? Wouldn't it be a kick to race turtles? What's the harm?

Well, the longer we live the more we know that some of the innocent and now nostalgic activities that once were really have their downsides.

Terri and Alan Gregory, though, recognized the turtle races for the harm they were causing. A few years back, they visited an Independence Day celebration in Harrison and didn't care for the treatment the turtles got, all in the name of down-home fun. They were sickened by what they saw.

Turtles placed on hot pavement. Kids dropping the critters on hard surfaces. Turtles abandoned in the downtown area without regard for the impact it would have on their lives. Some people painted the turtles' shells, changing the natural coloring that helps them hide from predators.

The races encouraged people to find their entrants, which in turn leads to them being withdrawn from their natural environments. For the brief entertainment of kids and adults, the turtles' natural rhythms and surroundings were disrupted.

So they started rescuing these slow-moving creatures. They operate Boone County Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation.

Then, this year, the Gregorys and others began writing letters to convince Arvest Bank to stop sponsoring the races in Harrison. The bank decided to do just that. This year, the races did not happen.

It's completely natural, so to speak, for those who have watched or participated in the turtle racing to feel a little disappointment at the loss of a tradition. Sometimes it seems these modern sensibilities just get a little crazy, doesn't it?

Arkansas, though, is the Natural State, and many of its residents have a deep respect for the critters that share the land with us. Plucking turtles from their habitats so that we humans can have a little temporary fun just doesn't make sense. A turtle can live 20, 30 or more years in the wild. Why shouldn't we just let them do that?

Turtles may be slow to race, but humans are sometimes slow to learn. Hopefully, the Gregorys have shined a little light on the lack of consideration and empathy involved in the tradition of turtle racing.

Now, if turtles want to race, let's just leave it to one of them to come out of his shell and get it organized.

Commentary on 08/13/2019

Print Headline: Slow to learn

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