- Associated Press - Saturday, December 26, 2015

SALEM, Va. (AP) - In her retirement, Salem resident Rosalee Meade has taken up photography as a hobby. Specifically, she has been photographing Salem’s Lake Spring Park and giving out photo albums to nursing homes and city departments. They are filled with shots of ducks and trees and the park in all its natural glory.

But in one album she has two older pictures of the sidewalk that cause people to turn up their noses.

“Anybody who sees it, they go, ‘Eww,’” she said.

That was a typical reaction from park visitors whenever they stepped on the sidewalk or wandered around the pond with anything other than boots on their feet. Duck excrement notoriously covered Lake Spring Park, giving city officials headaches for years.

This past winter, a group of officials decided something had to be done.

The bird droppings were not just an unsightly problem, but an expensive one, causing thousands of extra dollars in maintenance. The droppings led to such fertile conditions that algae would overgrow and clog the water systems. And since the ducks were barely monitored, they bred uncontrollably, leading to an explosion in waterfowl population.

After months of research, closing the park for two months and investing about $80,000 in renovating the park, the city has restored order at the two ponds. The city installed more than 900 feet of fencing to corral the ducks. They can still get over the fence, but they do it less now.

More than 120 tons of rock was placed in a new landing area behind one of the ponds where the ducks tend to congregate, and automatic feeders were set up. When the feeders start to hum, the ducks flock to the machines. After a few months, they already know the roar means it’s feeding time.

They also have learned to swim over to people who walk near the new coin-operated feeders. Visitors can insert a quarter and get a handful of duck feed to throw out to the birds.

The feeders have cured one of the park’s toughest problems: humans feeding the ducks junk food. Previously, visitors would grab chips and bread from the gas station and Burger King across the street, which was a poor diet for the ducks and one of the reasons for the excess excrement. The coin feeders also generate around $100 a week for the city, which is about how much the feed costs.

“Not only do people come here and not throw them garbage as much but (the ducks) aren’t as hungry,” said Salem spokesman Mike Stevens, one of the minds behind the park’s renovations.

New concrete walkways were installed, flower beds and greenery were planted and a new filtration system was added to keep the water fresh.

Mike Tyler, the director of Salem’s street and general maintenance department, which manages Lake Spring Park, said before the renovations he received constant complaints about the park’s cleanliness and phone calls voicing concerns about the ducks’ safety.

“We knew we hit a point where something had to be done,” he said.

Since the changes, he’s hardly heard a peep about the park. That’s the way he likes it.

The fencing and new feeding system have also regulated the ducks’ breeding and the park’s other avian visitors. Canadian geese and seagulls had joined the ducks at the park over the past decade. But now they are rarely seen at the ponds, having moved to the nearby Roanoke River, Stevens and Tyler said, where there is less of a controlled environment.

Last year, there were typically 100 waterfowl roaming Lake Spring Park. Now there are usually half that many birds mingling at the ponds, and almost all of them are ducks, including one affectionately named Kramer by park visitors because of the unusual mop of feathers on his head.

Kramer is a hit with the visitors who take pictures, including Meade, who said the new images of the sidewalk have elicited a different reaction from people who see her photographs.

“They see the new pictures of it and say, ‘Wow,’?” she said. “It’s 100 percent better.”


Information from: The Roanoke Times, https://www.roanoke.com

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