One of my daily rituals is to ride my bicycle several miles a day when it is above freezing and the streets are clear. In addition to the exercise, I can keep in touch with the folks and what is going on in the neighborhood.
These trips frequently go past the Bob Ehlen Park. Fremont and Benton streets and West Lane enclose this park. It does not have a lot of activity. Usually, only an occasional person is walking their dog. However, the park does have some very unique wildlife.
I saw a white albino squirrel there several times last year. That was the first one that I had ever seen.
This year there have been at least two black squirrels in and around the park. The white squirrel now seems to have moved further down Benton Street.
My research indicates that both white albino squirrels and black squirrels are quite rare. I don’t know what the probability of finding them both in the same area is, but I suspect that the odds are extremely low.
Several towns use white squirrels as their claim to fame. These are Kenton, Tenn.; Marionville, Mo.; Olney, Ill.; Brevard, N.C.; and Exeter, Ontario, Canada.
Kenton appears to have the most with a population of about 200. Residents claim that they have been there the longest and that they were left by a “Gypsy caravan” in 1869.
Kenton has a white squirrel sanctuary. It and Exeter have annual white squirrel celebrations. White squirrels get the right of way by law in Olney. Anyone who captures or tries to sell one in Marionville is fined $500. The squirrels in Brevard and Exeter have brown eyes and are not albinos. Dead ones in Marionville are packed in ice and shipped to an animal funeral home.
Black squirrels get the same recognition by the towns where they live, as do the white ones. Some of these towns are Council Bluffs, Iowa; Reedsburg, Wis.; Princeton, N.J.; New Hartford, Conn.; Marysville, Kan.; Kent, Ohio; and London, Ontario, Canada.
Council Bluffs has had black squirrels since at least 1840. Marysville has an annual black squirrel celebration and the official city anthem honors its black squirrels. The squirrels at Kent were imported from London, Ontario, in the early 1960s. Kent State University has an annual all-day Black Squirrel Festival and distance run on campus. London has its own black squirrel website and downloadable squirrel song here: http://lotterysquirrel.com/2010/02/07/london-ontario-canada-home-of-the-lucky-black-squirrels/.
Few people know that our federal government has a welfare program for white squirrels. If you drive a car, you are paying for it with your gas tax dollars. The federal highway program includes an 18.4-cent tax on gasoline for surface transportation funding.
Ten percent of this gas tax is required to be spent on projects such as white squirrel sanctuaries, transportation museums, pedestrian walkways, bicycle paths, landscaping and scenic beautification. A dispute in the U.S. Senate in September 2011 over these funds almost shut down the Federal Aviation Agency and the highway programs. Some senators thought that the funds should be used for repairing the 146,000 deteriorating bridges in America. However, the squirrels won the debate!
The white squirrel sanctuary in Kenton, Tenn., has received $269,404 in gas tax dollars so far. It is quite an elaborate facility with walking trails, brick crosswalks, a footbridge and trailhead parking.
I could find no similar federal welfare programs for the poor black squirrels. Is there some sort of discrimination here?
In any event, it is fun to know that we have such rare critters around here.
Chuck Drury is an Anoka resident, retired engineer and former technical director of Federal Cartridge Company.