Turtles, downtown onlookers are ‘Happy Together’

ECCO Asst. Director May Dunaway shows a male aquatic Yellow Belly Slider Turtle. Teddy Cosgrove points to it, as his brother Silas, 5, also watches. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Hendersonville – Children and creatures alike came out of their shells Saturday during “Open Streets” along Hendersonville’s Main Street, at a unique Team ECCO educational display of turtles and tortoises.

Team ECCO Aquarium and Shark Lab is at 511 N. Main St. Outside there, near the corner of Main and Fifth Avenue, ECCO staff and volunteers staged an educational display for nearly three hours. Most were under a shade tent.

ECCO is among museums and other facilities the state does not yet allow to operate indoors amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, with the current phase two restrictions continuing until at least Aug. 7.

So, ECCO took its education to the streets and public. “We encourage businesses to think creatively, as they shift to a new normal” with pandemic restrictions, Hendersonville Downtown Economic Development Director Lew Holloway said.

Team ECCO did so with outdoor outreach, as it did in the prior Open Streets event on July 18. Donations were accepted, for the nonprofit.

ECCO Asst. Director May Dunaway coordinated the exhibit. She said strollers stopping by were impressed “these are actually real tortoises and turtles, for them to see” — and right on Main.

Open Streets involves closing vehicular traffic along Main from Second to Sixth avenues but allowing it on cross streets. Holloway said, “The open space on Main Street during LoveHendo Saturdays will allow for alternative ways to experience Downtown Hendersonville.”

Executive Dir. Brenda Ramer founded Team ECCO in 2001. She notes though ECCO’s facility is closed, care of its creatures continues — very conscientiously. “Our animals are loved more than anyone could imagine, and cared for through thick and thin.”

People can see the creatures in videos and photos, on Team ECCO’s Facebook page and website ( They can peer through the facility’s windows, at a few exhibits inside. Ramer noted security cameras run round the clock, and are “monitored every 30-45 minutes.”

Tortoise, Turtles

A star attraction outdoors Saturday was Hatari, a good-sized African Sulcata Spurred Tortoise. Hatari (“danger” in Swahili) is five years old. ECCO intern Grant Leatham supervised Hatari’s fast crawling on a sidewalk near Fifth and Main and told passers-by about the tortoise. Joe and Melanie Tew of Flat Rock’s eight-month-old grandson Eli seemed mesmerized.

Dunaway showed youngsters a male aquatic Yellow Belly Slider Turtle. Onlookers included Steve Cosgrove of Laurel Park and his three sons — Grady, 7, Silas 5, and young Teddy who kept pointing at the critter.

The three other small aquatic turtles in a mini pool are females. They are a Red-Eared Slider, Painted, and Mississippi Map Turtle. Dunaway estimates they are ten to 20 years old, live to about 40 years in age, and are mostly but not fully grown. She said though some tried to crawl out, they cannot escape since their legs are too small and they kept slipping.

Two larger turtles chowed down on a salad of greens, cheese and watermelon. One was in a sling, after a recent fight.

Other creatures displayed included marine invertebrates. A young lady dressed as a mermaid, for people to have photos taken with her.

ECCO personnel handled the creatures — not the public, as a sanitary precaution. People are urged to wear masks downtown and elsewhere to abide by the state requirement, to space six feet or more apart, and often wash hands to reduce the spread of any Coronavirus germs.

Horn Shark

Sharks are young Grady Cosgrove’s favorite attraction in ECCO, he said. There were no sharks on Main Saturday.

Rather, a Horn Shark is among aqua stars in ECCO’s huge 2,000-gallon tank. It has a bullhead, and two sharp spines on its top fins for self-defense, Dunaway noted. Such a shark grows to merely three feet long.

Its tank companions include Cheeks the polka-dotted Panther Grouper, fluttering Charlotte the Stingray, and a Guitarfish ray two feet long that should reach three feet. There are 21 reptiles including Geckos and other lizards, in Team ECCO’s facility.

Open Streets

The aquatic display was among special activities downtown on Saturday, along with sprinklers and YMCA free yoga. Open Streets is to continue on the first Saturday per month, for the rest of this year. City Council, which next meets Thursday at 5:45 pm, periodically reviews it.

The City of Hendersonville Downtown Program now bills Open Streets as LoveHendo: Shop Local Saturdays. City Communications Mgr. Allison Justus noted the aim is to “provide open-air activity,” at a relaxed pace. Input is from the Main Street and Seventh Avenue advisory committees. Downtown Economic Development Coordinator Jamie Carpenter said city objectives are to “identify, preserve and enhance the key factors that contribute to the authentic small-town urban character” and to support projects that advance a “vibrant entrepreneurial environment and the livability of downtown.”

Pivot Fund

A new Pivot Fund launched by Friends of Downtown Hendersonville will award grants to businesses and nonprofits within Main Street and Seventh Avenue districts, to “find creative solutions to adapt” during the pandemic, Carpenter noted.

People can donate money for the city to distribute to businesses and “experience-based nonprofits” such as Team ECCO and Hands-On! A Children’s Museum that is also downtown. Holloway said this helps to “support expanding their business outdoors and maintaining social distancing standards.”

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