Pine River Turtle Race returns to St. Clair this weekend

After the positive response to its inaugural event last year, the Rotary Club of St. Clair’s Pine River Turtle Race is returning this weekend raising funds for the club and offering some cash prizes to three lucky turtle adopters.

“When I started coming around to the businesses with the turtles, people were like, ‘Oh! It's turtle time?’,” says Diane Ives, co-chair of the Rotary Club of St. Clair. “People were really excited and remembered them, so I was pleasantly surprised that they were that excited.”

Held along the Pine River at Rotary Centennial Park off of Clinton Avenue in downtown St. Clair, the event will begin at 4 p.m. on Sunday, Aug. 7. Following a roughly 500-foot journey through a lane created in the Pine River, cash prizes totaling $3,000 will be awarded immediately following the race to three individuals whose adopted turtle finished the fastest. First place will receive $1,500, second place $1,000, and third place $500.

Ives and her co-chair Patrick Coughlin say that funds raised from the organization’s annual fundraising event provides crucial support for its programs and projects throughout the year benefiting the community and residents of St. Clair.

“It's not about the turtles, it's about what the turtles can do,” Ives says. “Turtles are fun, but what those turtles can do for our community and for people who are in need is the best part. It makes all the work worthwhile.”

Providing student scholarships, books for schools and libraries, and offsetting pay-to-play costs for local athletes are just a few of the programs supported by the organization which previously raised funds for several decades through an annual raffle for a weeklong trip on a freighter which was halted due to the pandemic.



Coughlin says the idea sparked after he recalled an instance where a friend of his helped to sponsor a rubber duck race. With the event to be held at Rotary Centennial Park near Rotary Wildlife Landing which serves as a sanctuary for turtles, frogs, hummingbirds, and butterflies, Coughlin says rather than ducks, a turtle race felt more appropriate for the area.

The bright green plastic turtles sporting black visor-style sunglasses are rented for the event. Each one is carefully numbered to help identify who adopted each turtle and to ensure none are left behind. 

“Once we've retrieved the turtles, we box them back up and then they go on to another turtle race,” Coughlin says. “ So there's not a turtle that goes missing — we account for every one that's in the water.”

There are no residency requirements to adopt a turtle and participants of any age can participate. Costs are $5 each with bulk rates available for five turtles for $20 or 15 turtles for $50. Tickets can be purchased at several St. Clair businesses, affectionately called adoption centers, through the evening of Saturday, Aug. 6. Tickets will be also available from noon to 3:30 p.m. the day of the event.

Participating businesses include:

Anchor Point Bistro
Anchor Point Café
Black & Bleu BBQ
Buscemis Party Shoppe
Coughlin Jewelers
Drifters Restaurant
LaCroix Riverside Pub
Mannina's Wine House
Murphy Inn
Neiman's Family Market
Northstar Bank
River Crab
St. Clair Boat Harbor
St. Clair Chamber of Commerce
St. Clair City Hall
The Voyageur Restaurant
War Water

In the case of inclement weather or any other reason impeding the race, winners will be selected through a random drawing and notified via phone, email, or mail. To keep up with all the latest information about the upcoming race, visit pineriverturtlerace.com or facebook.com/RotaryClubOfStClair.

Read more articles by Liz Fredendall.

Liz Fredendall is a photojournalist and communications professional with nonprofit experience. In addition to her work with The Keel, Liz manages communications for the Community Foundation of St. Clair County, runs her own photography business, and writes for several publications. During her free time, Liz enjoys reading and exploring the Blue Water Area with her husband Erick and their corgi, Nori. Contact Liz at editor@thekeelph.com or follow her on Instagram @lizfredendallphoto.