ALBANY -- The little green guys that made a splash in Albany during the Mardi Gras festivities last year are back for another year of racing.
Due to the success of last year's fundraiser, officials with the Flint RiverQuarium announced Tuesday that the rubber turtles bedecked with shades and sweaters will return this year on March 6 to race the steps at the RiverQuarium.
New this year is the option for citizens to create teams that will compete against other community teams in separate races. Turtle Town Teams can include family members, business employees or groups of friends that wish to adopt several turtles together.
"Last year we were getting so many calls and questions about whether people could have teams," said Laura Calhoun, the race's organizer. "We decided this year to provide that option."
Turtle Town Team races will be held on Feb. 8, Feb. 26 and March 5. Teams will compete for prizes such as eight box lunches from Honey Baked Ham, four combo passes to the Flint RiverQuarium, $150 in coupons to Oasis Express Wash and $150 in coupons to Northwest Dry Cleaners.
The team that adopts the most turtles will be named the grand prize winner and will receive a one-year family membership to the Flint RiverQuarium, a $50 gift certificate to Harvest Moon that can also be used at The Catch or Henry Campbell Steakhouse, $50 in coupons from Oasis Express Wash, $50 in coupons to Northwest Cleaners and two box lunches from Honey Baked Ham.
Calhoun said 10,000 turtles are available for adoption for $5 each in support of the RiverQuarium. This year, several "Snap Packs" are available for those who wish to increase their chances of winning by adopting multiple turtles. The $20 Snap Pack includes five turtles; the $50 pack includes 13 turtles, and the $100 pack includes 26 turtles.
Participants will be able to compete for the chance to win $1 million and numerous other prizes.
In addition to the million-dollar turtles, other prizes include $3,000 in cash sponsored by SB&T, free gas for one year in $100-per-month increments at Homerun Foods, $1,000 worth of groceries from Publix, a Hobie Lanai Kayak from Huggins Outboard and free Chick-fil-A for one year.
"We tried to make the prizes appealing to citizens," said Calhoun. "In this economy, we feel we hit the majors like gas, food and money."
The Turtle Race organizer said the RiverQuarium is also working on making the races faster this year.
"It was our first year last year, and we were still ironing things out," she said. "This year we are working on making it (the race) much quicker."
Also returning this year is the Make Fashion Count competition for local nonprofits in which area organizations compete for the best-dressed turtle with their entries into the Flint RiverQuarium Turtle Race Fashion Show.
Saturday was the kickoff for the Make Fashion Count at the Albany Mall Center Court. Throughout the week, the turtles will be seen at various sponsor locations where citizens can vote on which turtle they feel is the best-dressed.
Calhoun said citizens should look for the 12-foot inflatable turtle at various locations throughout the week for their chance to vote on the turtles through cash donations.
Each organization that receives a cash donation will retain 75 percent of its collections with the remaining 25 percent to be received by the RiverQuarium.
"It is a fun way to highlight and support our local nonprofits," said Calhoun of the Make Fashion Count contest.
On Feb. 18, a fashion show will be held with all the participating nonprofits' turtle models at the Flint RiverQuarium.
Nonprofits that are participating in the Make Fashion Count contest include GraceWay, Habitat for Humanity, Albany Humane Sociey, YMCA, Thronateeska Heritage Center, Lily Pad, Albany Area Arts Council and the Albany Symphony.
Last year's winner of the Make Fashion Count Contest was GraceWay with its turtle named "Racey Grace."
Calhoun said last year more than 8,000 turtles were adopted by the community, and this year the RiverQuarium hopes that all 10,000 will be adopted.
"It is a fun fundraiser that everyone in the community can be involved in," she said. "We are part of the whole Mardi Gras celebration, and we will be here all afternoon."
Activities scheduled at the RiverQuarium as part of the turtle race include a petting zoo, pony and train rides, live entertainment, food vendors and $5 admission to the aquarium.
"We are very excited to be able to do the turtle race again this year," said Calhoun. "It is a great way to support downtown and the Flint RiverQuarium."
To adopt a turtle or for more information about the Flint RiverQuarium Turtle Race, citizens can visit www.flintriverquarium.com and click on the Turtle Race icon.