By ROBERT JUMPER
ONE FEATHER EDITOR
The Oconaluftee Island Park is one of the most frequently visited destinations in Cherokee. It is a great place to enjoy a walk, share a picnic with the family, or relax with your fishing line dangling in the river. Thousands come to the park each year to share in the fun of cooking out and playing, both on the island and in the always-cool waters of the river. The park is a great place to enjoy outdoor activities and nature…maybe a little too much nature.
Flocks of Mallard ducks and Canadian geese have called the Island Park their home away from home for several years now. During the summer months, it is not unusual to run afoul of the fowls, because the hundreds of ducks and geese that visit the park leave their particular calling cards all over the park. Bird droppings splatter the ground and walkways of the park. If you have spent much time at the park at all, you will have stepped in, rolled in, or laid down on duck droppings in various states of freshness.
Besides the uncomfortable feeling of having olive drab pudding between your toes, there are some real health risks to being exposed to wild bird droppings, although a person would likely have to inhale or ingest some of the material in order to be at risk. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention website states that wild fowl droppings may contain germs such as E. coli, Salmonella, and Campylobacter. Ducks and geese also carry lice that are transmittable to both humans and other animals.
The problem of waterfowl invasions in public parks is not unique to Cherokee. Just over Soco Mountain in Haywood County, Lake Junaluska has fought a 12-year battle with the geese and ducks. Like the Island Park, Lake Junaluska’s patrons began feeding bread to small groups of a few ducks and geese. Many waterfowl that are hand-fed by humans lose their instinct to migrate. The visitors to Lake Junaluska would feed the birds with white bread, which has no nutritional value for them and discourages them from seeking foods that will be of nutritional value-in effect, killing them slowly. Lake Junaluska, being inundated with waterfowl and waterfowl feces, finally regulated the feeding of wild birds on their property. They banned the feeding of ducks and geese by visitors to the lake. The management of lake set up a feeding station controlled by Lake Junaluska staff in a location on the lake away from most walking and public use areas. The result was that fewer ducks are frequenting the lake’s public walkways and event areas, which means less navigation around or through piles of duck droppings. In the end, taking this approach created a healthier environment for the visitors to Lake Junaluska and for the duck and goose population there.
The tribe spent approximately $600,000 to revamp the Island Park. More concrete sidewalks make the park more accessible to the elderly and handicapped. Additional sand pits have been created for volleyball and other games. Additional flood mitigation through the placement of boulders as water breaks have been installed and overall re-landscaping is in place. Amid all of the enhancements stand at least two new coin operated duck feeders. They are the type you might find at Dollywood, similar to bubble gum machines that dispense a small handful of duck or fish food in the form of pellets. While the feeders may provide some health benefits for the ducks and geese, the new diet will do nothing to address the fecal matter that spots the Island Park.
And a final ironic twist to mention-while the wild ducks and geese have free reign to defecate at will, and in mass quantities at the park, community members and visitors have been restricted for years from legally bringing their dogs on to the park-although some folks ignore or neglect to read the “No Dogs Allowed” signage. Those signs were up prior to the renovations. I am not sure if they have been replaced. Apparently, someone feels that we should be particular about what squishes between our toes at the park.