WALKING THE APPALACHIAN TRAIL HELP GOPHER TORTOISES?
recently learned of an atypical conservation approach that involves
a lot of walking, a threatened tortoise species and an opportunity for
people to make a contribution to environmental preservation in an interesting
and unusual way. The challenge reminded me of Aesop's tale of the iconic
race between the hare and the tortoise, which as everyone knows was
won by the slow and steady tortoise.
in this event will also be tortoises though they won't be participants
in the challenge. The sole contestant is University of Georgia graduate
student Daniel Quinn, who plans to walk the full 2,185 miles of the
Appalachian Trail. Dan challenges others to pledge money for each mile
he completes as he makes the trek from Georgia to Maine.
which are turtles that live exclusively on land, are native to all of
the warm continents except Australia. The Greek tortoise, native to
the Mediterranean region, was probably what Aesop had in mind.
U.S. contestant in the race would be the gopher tortoise of the Southeast,
a benign creature found in coastal states from South Carolina to Louisiana.
West of the Tombigbee River in Alabama the gopher tortoise is officially
protected as a threatened species under the Endangered Species Act.
and charismatic tortoise is noted for living in large colonies and digging
deep underground burrows in sandy soil. Some of these subterranean retreats
go down 15 feet and are 30 feet long. Many serve as important refuges
for other animals. Unfortunately, gopher tortoises are frequent victims
of development and construction projects. But because tortoises are
so appealing, people who get to know them want to protect them.
clearly an advocate of the gopher tortoise, and his chosen charity for
any pledges is the Gopher Tortoise Council. As he puts it, "I picked
this small 501(c)(3) nonprofit because I know the people involved and
the good work they do. They primarily work to save gopher tortoise populations
by restoring upland habitats like longleaf pine forests."
also supports students through research grants. Dan was a recipient
of such funding while doing his master's research under the direction
of Tracey Tuberville at the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory. His thesis
involved augmenting gopher tortoise populations by releasing juveniles
into natural habitats.
"If you would like to support [the GTC] and my hike, you can pledge
any amount of money per mile." A penny pledge would result in a
maximum amount of $21.85 to be paid should he complete the trail. A
pledge of 25 cents per mile would be $546.25. Once he has completed
his hike, he will tally up the miles and each person's pledges. To avoid
red tape and personal handling of money, he asks that everyone go to
the Gopher Tortoise Council website www.gophertortoisecouncil.org/donations/
and simply donate the amount that was pledged. He offers a bonus to
anyone making a pledge: they "will receive photos throughout the
hike (I promise not to inundate your inbox)." His email address
to Dan, as many as 3,000 people start to hike the Appalachian Trail
each year, but fewer than one-quarter of those who start actually finish
and only half make it halfway. As he says, "People quit because
it is physically and psychologically demanding to walk over mountains
every day for five to six months." He admits he is not "a
seasoned backpacker [but] inexperienced people do complete the trail,
and attitude makes a huge difference."
a personal commitment to make the hike for his own edification and decided
"why not also hike for charity? Hiking for something other than
myself will give me a purpose to keep going when I might not otherwise
have one." Dan Quinn sounds a bit like Aesop's tortoise in his
commitment to getting the job done. And clearly the tortoise will be
a winner in this contest, too.
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