By Heather Regula, Correspondent
Hundreds of turtle enthusiasts filled Yettie Polk Park for the 11th Annual Turtle Festival, hosted by the Kiwanis Club of Belton, on Saturday, April 28.
“The Turtle Festival is dual purpose – it is a major fundraiser for us, but it is also our signature community service event. We’re grateful for our community sponsors who contribute and let us provide today’s events, free of charge, to families,” explained Rhonda Hershey, Turtle Festival Coordinator.
Attendees enjoyed food trucks, musical entertainment provided by Belton schools, a petting zoo, and much more.
“Today is incredible! There are so many vendors, lots of things for the kids to do, and the best thing about everything is that it’s free! I love “free.99,” laughed Beverly Craig. “We live in Killeen and heard about the Turtle Festival on the radio – the weather is perfect, so we decided to come on out!”
Grumpy’s Jams, one of the vendors at the Turtlefest, featured an array of jams and samples.
“When you retire from teaching and coaching, you have to do something to stay busy! I’ve been making jams for about five years and today is a beautiful day to be out at the Turtle Fest,” remarked Carey Leech (also known as “Grumpy”), owner of Grumpy’s Jams.
“I bought some jams from Grumpy when I saw him at Christmas on the Chisholm Trail, and I’m so glad he’s here today! I’m just trying some new jams and deciding which ones to buy,” stated Christina Adams. “We haven’t been to the Turtle Fest before, and we are having a great time! Unfortunately, we missed seeing the live turtle races by about 10 minutes.”
One of the nonprofit booths present Saturday was Foster Love Bell County.
“We are happy to be here today – getting the word out about Foster Love Bell County. Our Christmas in July fundraiser is coming up – it’s our big annual fundraiser and last year we raised $12,000,” explained Candace Cartwright. “We exist to service Bell County by meeting the needs of foster children and those who love them.”
The scene-stealer was the Fast and Furious Live Turtle Race, involving turtles of various species and sizes.
“The Fast and Furious Live Turtle Race is a family-friendly competition. Entry is free, and there are some people here today who have been competing in this race for years!” stated Rick Martinez, Turtle Race Director. “We want to show our appreciation to the turtles and their owners, so everyone who registers gets a free chia pet turtle that can be placed in the turtles’ terrarium.”
Live turtle racing is a family affair for Annie Varness, and her son Drew.
“We have six turtles, and our box turtle Freddy and our water turtle Junior, named after Dale Earnhardt Jr, raced today. Freddy placed second in her division, and Junior won the race in his division,” remarked Annie Varness. “We’ve had both Freddy and Junior for about 13-14 years, and this is their seventh year racing.”
The Ultimate Turtle Race ends out the day’s festivities and features 1000 plastic turtles racing down Nolan Creek. Participants adopted the plastic turtles for $5 each, in hopes of winning the $1,000 grand prize.