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St. Charles

Young: Hickory Knolls offers unique volunteer task for children, families

Honey, did you remember to walk the turtle?”

That’s probably not the way the usual conversation goes around a typical household, but for families who would like to become involved with the newly-launched “Turtle Wrangling” volunteer program at the Hickory Knolls Discovery Center, it might soon turn into a familiar refrain.

Turtles need sunshine just like people do, according to Pam Otto, Manager of Nature Programs and Interpretive Services. And now that spring is here, bringing longer days, warmer temperatures and more abundant sunshine, the conditions are perfect to let the Nature Center’s turtles strut their stuff in the great outdoors.

Volunteer “Turtle Wranglers” can sign up to escort one of the Center’s ten resident box, soft shell, or Blanding’s Turtles on outdoor excursions to the patio and grounds immediately adjacent to the nature center. The program is open to any child age 7 or older who is accompanied by a parent or guardian, and Hickory Knolls staff members will provide training on the functions and responsibilities involved.

For families and children who want to become more involved with nature activities, such volunteer opportunities provide ideal introductions to the different types of programs and tasks that are essential to the care and feeding of the nature center’s non-human inhabitants. While Hickory Knolls Discovery Center’s staff perform numerous supervisory and maintenance functions on a daily basis, there is always more that needs to be done --- like seeing that the center’s turtle population gets a chance to catch some rays.

Unlike the exertion involved in taking Fido out for a walk, “Turtle Wrangling” is a fairly laid-back activity. Turtles being turtles, most of the volunteer’s time will be spent just watching them bask in the sun. Real go-getters may wander through the native grasses and vegetation in search of a juicy cricket to munch on. On days when the temperature reaches 70 degrees or higher, turtles can benefit from about 30 to 60 minutes of sunlight. This exposure to sunshine helps turtles build calcium necessary for strong shells and bones, boost a healthy metabolism, and prevent disease.

Keeping the Center’s turtle population healthy is vitally important, especially for the group of Blanding’s Turtles, an endangered species residing at the nature center as part of a Blanding’s Recovery Project administered in conjunction with the Forest Preserve of DuPage County. The project hopes to foster a safe environment that will encourage breeding.

For more information about “Turtle Wrangling” or other volunteer opportunities, call Pam Otto at 630-513-4399 or visit Hickory Knolls Discovery Center’s website at

Erika Young is public relations and marketing manager for the St. Charles Park District.
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