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Finding Minnesota: Nisswa’s Turtle Races

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(credit: CBS) Mike Binkley
Mike Binkley has been covering Minnesota news for more than 25 year...
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NISSWA, Minn. (WCCO) – Serious speed is on display at Minnesota race tracks like Brainerd International or Canterbury Park.

But you’ll also find small-town tracks where the contestants aren’t quite so fast.

Turtle Races have become a summertime tradition in at least three towns: Longville, Nisswa and Perham.
They’re led in Nisswa by Mark Ulm, who holds the title of Turtle Master.

“Boys and girls, let’s get ready to race some turtles!” he shouted to the crowd of mostly vacationers.

This past Wednesday, Ulm led more than 400 racers at the town’s turtle track, in a parking lot just off Main Street.

The races go off every Wednesday afternoon throughout the summer, featuring turtles with a little speed, if not a good sense of direction.

Hugh Pates of San Diego, California watched some of his younger relatives racing the unpredictable creatures.

“Oh, he stopped right at the finish line!” he yelled.

There are no big prizes, just the thrill of competition. Three-year-old Dylan Digdon of Plainfield, Illinois smiled as she showed off the green ribbon she won in her very first race.

Racers choose from dozens of turtles, found in creeks and lakes by a local non-profit.

The people of Nisswa believe they have the longest running turtle races in the state: 49 years, spanning at least three generations. Lisa Geinert of Plymouth loves to carry on the tradition.

“I grew up in the area so I grew up around the turtle races. So it’s nice to be able to bring my daughter up to the turtle races and show her what I grew up doing around here,” said Geinert.

For the record, Longville has the title of “Turtle Racing Capital of the World,” but people in Nisswa say they’ve been doing it longer.

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