Turtle rescue reveals hazards at site

First Posted: 7/8/2009

The popularity of Mount Airys new public fishing area has brought an unexpected complication: wildlife getting caught in broken fishing lines, as was the case Wednesday with a large snapping turtle.
That incident ended happily after a member of an animal-rescue group used a kayak to reach the turtle, which found itself entrapped in lines tangled around the limbs of a large tree in the middle of Tumbling Rock Reservoir.
But Linda Harris of Carolina Wildlife Rehab said the site at Westwood Park recently has been endangering not only turtles, but ducks and other birds that have encountered the discarded fishing lines.
The tree, placed strategically by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission in the pond off Galax Trail to attract fish, is near a new pier at the public fishing area created from the remnants of a city reservoir built in the 1920s.
But when some anglers on the structure have cast into the water near the partially submerged tree, their lines have gotten into the limbs. And in cases where the fisherman have been unable to free them, the lines have simply been broken and abandoned, also leaving behind fishhooks as well as red and white bobbers.
It looks like a Christmas tree out there, Harris said of the bobbers hanging in the dead tree and their resemblance to holiday ornaments. The state wildlife damage-control agent, who also is a founding member of Carolina Wildlife Rehab and teaches a related course at Surry Community College, said tangled lines have been reported at other sections of the pond as well.
Gary Felts, an employee of the city Parks and Recreation Department who is a caretaker of facilities and grounds at Westwood Park, said the problem with broken fish lines and hooks left dangling surfaced after a recent event at the reservoir.
A first-ever community fishing day, billed as Fishstock 2009, was conducted on May 30 to introduce the new facility to the public with the help of 500 catfish released by the Wildlife Resources Commission. About 100 people attended, Felts said, which meant a lot of hooks hitting the water that day.
On Wednesday, several anglers were spotted around the pond as the turtle rescue unfolded. Harris, who frequently responds to animal-related crises whether it involves aiding an injured squirrel or getting a snake out of a house was notified Wednesday morning about the trapped turtle. Apparently, it became hooked while swimming near the tree, with Harris pointing out that turtles will eat wild ducks that are caught in such predicaments.
I just got a call this morning and didnt even know this park was here, said Harris, who lives near Dobson.
She arrived at Westwood Park around 10:30 a.m., but realized she had no way to reach the reptile in distress. Felts subsequently got involved and helped rush a kayak owned by Cathy Cloukey of Reeves Community Center to the scene.
I do want to thank Reeves for getting someone out here so fast, said the animal rescuer. She subsequently paddled the kayak out to the tree and freed the snapping turtle, to the delight of a group of children on the pier who were taking part in a summer program.
Harris then returned to the shore and placed the turtle, estimated to weigh about 10 pounds, into a plastic barrel to be taken to a veterinarian. His little tail is damaged and will have to be taken off, she said. After the turtle recovers, it will be released back into the wild, Harris said.
Meanwhile, Harris and Felts discussed possible measures Wednesday to alleviate the hazards at Tumbling Rock Reservoir so other wildlife wont be victimized. It was suggested that an organized clean-up be conducted, possibly with the aid of Boy Scouts who have spearheaded other projects at Westwood Park.
Wednesdays episode was just another rescue for Harris, a veteran nurse who has been involved in animal-related emergencies for many years. Youd be surprised how many calls I get to go rescue turtles and ducks, she said. She also comes to the aid of birds, deer (including about 50 to 75 orphaned fawns per year), and even baby possums whose mothers have been killed on roadways.
In her role of removing snakes from homes, Harris pointed out that they tend to get trapped behind refrigerators. I get snake calls constantly, said the dedicated animal lover who doesnt mind a busy rescue schedule.
I just appreciate people caring enough to call.
Contact Tom Joyce at [email protected] or at 719-1924.

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