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Shades of Green and Turtles, Too

By Jennifer McMaster and Robert Kemnitz

One of the joys of the Louisville Zoo is that there’s so much to do. And no matter how carefully you study your Zoo map and plan your route, from Gorilla Forest to the Islands (and don’t forget to stop by the Elephant Exhibit for Elephant Aerobics!), there’s always something else you try to squeeze into your  visit.

With that in mind, the Louisville Zoo now offers a respite from the hustle and bustle of our everyday lives as well as a break during your typically busy Zoo visit. Just a few steps away from the Giraffe and Rhinoceros Exhibits lies the Etscorn Garden. Here, you will find a meditative spot brimming with annual and perennial beds of flowers and grasses complemented by shrubs and small tree groupings. Each element of the garden seasonally presents spectacular colors surrounded by exquisite shades of green. Benches beckon you to relax and enjoy not only the sights and smells of this verdant paradise, but also the sounds of a cool waterfall and the playful scampering of wood turtles.

The Irvin F. and Alice S. Etscorn Garden was named after its benefactors and was designed by John Korfhage Landscape and Design, Inc. and built in conjunction with the Zoo horticulture &  maintenance staff. The garden provides yet another way to focus on the Zoo’s expanding botanical  collection.

As the garden was being designed, Assistant Director Mark Zoeller hit upon an idea that would add a wildlife conservation element to the garden while contributing to the natural beauty. After all, as any gardener knows, buds and blossoms aren’t the only wildlife that flourish in a garden. “We thought that bringing turtles into the landscape would allow them to add their own splash of color,” says Ectotherms Curator Bill McMahan. “Plus, turtles are a nice reminder to us all to slow down and take in the world once in a while.” McMahan suggested wood turtles, which he refers to as “Yankee turtles” because  they exist primarily in the north, from New England to Michigan. Wood turtles are threatened in the wild due to human encroachment and the rise in raccoon populations, the wood turtle’s leading predator. Trustees of the Louise K. Judah estate contributed funds to create the wood turtle pond.

Protecting the wood turtles in Etscorn Garden is a priority for Bill McMahan. Several strategies are being tested including barriers and hot wires to ward off ambitious raccoons. Hopefully, the six wood turtles that set up residence in April will reproduce and help propagate the species. “It is a chance to include a gentle reminder of the Zoo’s commitment to conservation,” says McMahan. “Plus, the turtles are a nice treat for Kentuckians who’ve never seen them before and for transplanted New Englanders who can visit a native species.” Many of the garden’s plants are also indigenous to New England.

In the spirit of reflection and remembrance, Zoo supporters may make a contribution to dedicate a cobblestone brick, tree, bench, or garden spot to a loved one or to celebrate a significant occasion. Diane Davis, the Zoo's former development director, was one of the first people to make a donation for a bench in memory of her late husband. “The staff helped me select a wonderful location for Ronnie’s bench. It gives me a warm feeling to see someone enjoying this special place while relaxing on the bench.”