- Associated Press - Sunday, February 8, 2015

SALEM, Va. (AP) - Salem has a duck problem. More specifically, it has a problem with duck excrement.

Lake Spring Park, one of the scenic staples of the city, has become known for a less appealing aspect that comes when more than 100 ducks make their home near its two ponds. City officials don’t know whether to blame it on the ducks’ overpopulation, the disarray of their habitat, or the Burger King that sits across the street. But most everyone agrees that the sheer volume of the bird droppings has become an expensive and unsightly blight on the popular city park.

But plans are in motion to fix this.

“You can clean it off one day, and the next day it’s back there,” said Mike Tyler, the director of Salem’s street and general maintenance department, which manages Lake Spring Park.

Complaints about the park’s upkeep, or lack thereof, have been constant, he said. But the city is now in the early stages of restoring the cleanliness of Lake Spring Park and making the ducks’ habitat more fitting for both its human visitors and the waterfowl that call it home.

A 900-foot fence is being constructed around the two ponds in the park and a new 1,500-gallon water pump will be installed under the park to pump fresh water into the ponds. Most notably, an automatic feeder and coin-operated feeders will be placed in the 3-acre park in hopes that the ducks will eat healthier and have a more stable living environment. One of the major problems right now is the human food that’s regularly fed to the ducks.

“We need the public to work with us,” said city spokesman Mike Stevens. “Not just to be patient, but to change behavior.”

Lake Spring Park has been a popular Salem attraction dating to the 1800s when the area was home to the Lake Spring Hotel, but in the past decade the population of waterfowl has exploded. The ducks’ breeding and feeding has not been controlled. Some new waterfowl have joined the habitat, including some geese and a seagull here and there. The park, officials say, is filled with birds running amok.

Making matters worse, the birds are not being fed a proper diet. Lots of visitors buy food at the convenience store or the Burger King that are right next door, Stevens said, and they feed the ducks human snacks - instead of healthier food made for waterfowl.

The excessive excrement is not just an aesthetic problem. The large amount of feces in the water - particularly in the larger pond, which is warmer - has created an over-fertilized environment where plant life such as algae has thrived. This has caused one of the fountains to clog and break so many times that it was taken out.

“We’re at the point where something has to be done,” Tyler said.

City manager Kevin Boggess acknowledged the problem. In August, he, Stevens and several other city officials traveled to Staunton to see its municipal duck pond at Gypsy Hill Park, which is similar to the one in Salem. However, unlike Lake Spring Park, its sidewalks are mostly spotless. According to people on the trip, Staunton controlled what the ducks ate and built an iron fence. The fence doesn’t trap the ducks anywhere, but its simple existence led the ducks to corral in certain places instead of running around everywhere.

Salem plans to take advantage of these ideas. Part of a new iron fence, 700 feet of which was welded by Salem High School students, has already been erected. It will go around both ponds and is designed to keep the ducks near the water but will not prevent them from walking around most of the park.

A 6,000-square-foot landing of river rock will also be added near the smaller pond, where a large automatic feeder will be timed to feed the animals every morning. The ducks, city officials believe, will naturally hang out near the spot where they are continually fed - the landing area, in this case. Coin-operated feeders will also be set up for the public to use. Money generated from the food dispensers will go to pay for the duck food.

The city also will put out new signage asking people to refrain from feeding the animals human food.

“Keep your Whopper,” said Stevens. “They can eat it, but it’s not good for them.”

Lake Spring Park will have to partially close March 2 while some of the changes are made. The new water pump will be put underneath the park to pump fresh water into both ponds and new fountains constructed during the closure.

An area of the large pond near West Main Street and a walkway to the gazebo will remain open, but the rest will be closed until the end of April. City officials hope to have the entire park back open and the new feeders installed by April 25, for the annual Fish Rodeo.

These changes have not been itemized specifically in the city’s budget, but the street and maintenance department has set aside $40,000 for the project, Tyler said. The park has not had serious renovations in two decades. Stevens said the city has just been putting a bandage on its problems and officials hope these changes will fix the park indefinitely.

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


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