By Joe Earle

They could have been salamanders.

That was Jan Collins’ first idea. After all, she had seen salamanders living in the springs that gave Sandy Springs its name, so they seemed a natural subject for the public art project she and others were trying to organize for the community back in 2004.

SEA TO SHINING SEA TURTLE Location: Heritage Sandy Springs

But when someone pointed out that salamanders seemed, well, a tad unattractive, Collins and others with the Sandy Springs Society decided the painted statues should be turtles.

And a city symbol was born.

In the summer of 2005, 75 colorful turtles walked the streets of Sandy Springs. The Fiberglass turtles, decorated by artists, filled Sandy Springs’ public spaces with imaginative images ranging from a cowboy turtle to one bearing a portrait of Marilyn Monroe.

“It was just the most glorious sight you have ever seen,” Collins said. “People came in droves from all over to see the turtles.”

Coincidentally, Sandy Springs was about to become a city. After decades of trying, city boosters in 2005 finally won legislative approval for a public referendum on whether to create a new city. Voters overwhelmingly endorsed the new city. The turtles’ timing was perfect. For some, they came to symbolize Sandy Springs’ slow-but-steady progress toward incorporation.

“The icing on the cake was the referendum for the city,” Collins said. “Everybody said, ‘We know why you chose the turtle now. It’s because of the story of the turtle and the hare.’”

The 75 turtles went on display on April 1, 2005, Collins said, and most were removed that fall. About 50 were sold at auction. The sale netted more than $500,000, Collins said, and the money paid for the entertainment lawn at Heritage Green and helped Sandy Springs buy parkland.

Collins said about 25 turtles still greet passersby in Sandy Springs. Some of them stand in conspicuous places –in the parking lots of shopping centers or alongside Roswell Road, for instance. Others stand guard in subdivisions. To find a list of locations of the remaining turtles, check with Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism. They have a brochure mapping the turtles.

“The turtles did untold good,” Collin said. “It was just a joyous event.”