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Park Board workers spring into hero mode to save pregnant snapping turtle

Dressed for a special occasion: a shawl of algae signified last Sunday was no ordinary day for this female snapping turtle.

Dressed for a special occasion: a shawl of algae signified last Sunday was no ordinary day for this female snapping turtle.

Sleepy sunshine christened the City of Lakes last Sunday morning as Xain Thorton and Matt Leifeld tended to the green space known as Alcott Triangle near Cedar Lake. The Minneapolis Park and Rec maintenance tandem climbed back into their work truck and pointed their pickup east. They didn't get far.

A man stood in the road, flagging them while pointing at the sidewalk.

"Check it out," he told Thorton and Leifeld, college students who work as Park Board employees for the summer.     

On the narrow spit of grass between the street and sidewalk, a zaftig snapping turtle was in the midst of laying eggs. 

Gestational wanderlust had brought her out of Cedar Lake, across the busy parkway,  through another two-lane street, and onto the boulevard where she now was being a dutiful mom. 

"We see turtles all the time, but this was a first," says Thorton. "They tend not to cross busy streets."

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Her front legs were positioned on the driveway when Leifeld and Thorton first approached. They provided leverage for her rear claws as she laboriously dug a bottle-shaped hole that ran as deep as eight inches. When finally satisfied with her efforts, the expectant mother would deposit 10 to 30 ping pong ball-sized eggs. 

But the question soon became how she would make it back to the lake. The turtle took her first step off the grass. She was headed north toward the water, kind of.  

The turtle moved sideways across the first roadway. Leifeld and Thorton played wildlife crossing guards and nature information booth attendants. They chaperoned her as 15 cars drove up before she got to the embankment that pointed down to Cedar Lake Parkway.

"That part was more tricky than you'd think," Thorton says. "It was steep and she almost tumbled down. She didn't, thankfully, because a few branches caught her on the way."  

The duo directed traffic a second round as the turtle "waddled horizontally down the street until we finally straightened her out," says Thorton. 

Bikers, walkers, and runners turned into a spontaneous fan club. Leifeld and Thorton explained her backstory. It had taken her exactly 20 minutes to travel from the boulevard back home.

Her eggs will hatch in about 90 days, around the last week in August.

"The whole time we were walking her back, we were maybe five feet away from her," Thorton says. "She didn't mind us at all. She was cool about it. To watch her descend down, and make her way slowly but surely into Cedar, it was awesome. We definitely wanted to make sure the turtle got back okay."