Scenes from Bel Air's Fourth of July Turtle Derby and Frog Jumping Contest. (Video by Matt Button/BSMG)

The rain was staying away, the crowd was out and the turtles and frogs were doing their best to reach the finish line as Bel Air's annual Independence Day events got under way Thursday morning.

The Turtle Derby especially had a robust group of participants, despite attempts by wildlife groups to get it cancelled this year, warning of the spread of dangerous viruses from the intermingling of wild turtles.

Organizers at the derby, which was run by the Bel Air Kiwanis Club for the first time, seemed anxious to make sure participants stayed safe and clean.

An announcer reminded everyone during the race: "You should always wash your hands thoroughly after handing turtles."


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Sandra Hopkins and Trish Weiss, who were manning the registration table, said Department of Natural Resources officials collected a couple of turtles that were sick but otherwise did not have any issues with the turtles people were bringing.

Hopkins and Weiss said many people were upset about the plans to stop the derby, and there were plenty of eager participants.

"You can see the turnout," Hopkins added.

Despite the heightened scrutiny of the animal events, participants like Don Dow did not think it was too restrictive. His daughter was taking part in the frog-jumping contest, which followed the turtle derby.

"They try to spread education for everybody," Dow said about the organizers of the two events. "I think they are doing a good job with it."

Sophia Dow, 12, of Bel Air, was eager to show off Pot Pie and Phillippe (or Phi-'leap'), two very large frogs she was preparing to enter.

Sophia said she enters the race every year.

"It's really fun, almost to have, like, a two-day holiday," she said about Independence Day.

She had come with Bel Air's Maggie Schepleng, 12, who was excited to be racing Fudge and Mr. Cuddles, two formidable-looking amphibians.

"My favorite part is catching the frogs," Maggie said, adding it helped that Sophia had a lake in front of her house.

Many entries

The frog-jumping contest had 178 entries, which organizers said was far more than they had expected. There were first-timers at both of the animal events, as well as those who had made a tradition of coming.

Sherry Beaulieu, of Abingdon, brought her children, 6-year-old Cole and 4-year-old Grace, for the first time this year.

"We found our turtle in our yard, and we are going to go back and put him home," Beaulieu explained.

Cole was confident the turtle, named Slow Flash, could win "because he wants to go out."

Beaulieu had not heard of the controversy over the derby, but said she felt turtles were safe as long as people were careful to wash their hands.