As Donald Mayo tossed saltines from his Ford Escape Wednesday afternoon, he said he didn’t know feeding the geese at Silver Lake was being discouraged.
"So it goes from a fun thing to a no-no," the Red Wing resident said.
The Rochester Park Board in November sought to increase efforts to discourage feeding the geese. Earlier this year, a billboard-type sign was put in place near the parking lot on the west side of Silver Lake.
Smaller signs discouraging feeding are expected to be posted near park entrances in the future.
Mayo, who said he feeds the geese about once a month, said he hadn’t noticed the new sign. Others who were feeding the geese Wednesday but didn’t want their names used said the same thing, stating they weren’t aware the activity was discouraged.
Parks and Recreation Director Paul Widman said he knows spreading the message is an uphill battle.
"It’s a tradition in Rochester to feed the geese," he said.
The ban on feeding is a policy, rather than a city ordinance with legal consequences, so Mayo said he might still feed the birds on occasion when he visits Rochester for medical visits.
However, when he was told one of the concerns regarded the dangers processed foods posed for the wild birds’ diets, his wife, Amy, put the crackers away.
"I agree with the dietary thing," she said, noting future feedings would likely involve more natural grains or corn.
Even that has been discouraged.
The city took steps in 2007 to curtail feeding by removing feeders filled with corn from Silver Lake Park and erecting its first sign in efforts to educate park users of the negative impacts recreational feeding has on the birds.
The latest sign is intended to increase awareness, noting the impact goes beyond providing a poor diet.
Feeding brings more geese to the park, which can increase the spread of disease and delay natural migration.
The most obvious impact for some park users, however, is the waste, Widman said.
A large number of geese with poor diets in one area has ramped up the amount of goose poop on the parks lakeside trails. It’s been named as a key issue for the newly formed Silver Lake Friends organization, and Park Board member Dick Dale has been pushing for it to be addressed.
"We don’t have the resources to clean up after them," Widman said, noting suggested practices are either too costly or ineffective.
The Mayos said they have seen other communities struggle with issues related to waterfowl waste and suggested middle ground should be sought to address concerns while keeping a longtime tradition alive.
Widman said such middle ground would be difficult to find.
"You can’t feed the geese and not expect then to make a mess afterward," he said.
While the city is working to intensify its message for discouraging feeding the geese, Widman said discussions are expected to continue.
He plans to discuss other geese management options during this spring or summer in an effort to find ways to encourage geese to disperse throughout the city and region, rather than gather at a single park looking for handouts.
The options include adjusting the habitat, adding features to Silver Lake to deter gathering of waterfowl and possible population management by removing fertilized eggs from nests.
While the goal is to manage the existing geese, Widman said it’s not the department’s or the Park Board’s intent to remove geese from the city and its parks.
"We’re trying to strike a balance," he said.