Lake Minnehaha plan to benefit park visitors

Holliday Park

Lake Minnehaha, in the middle of Holliday Park in Cheyenne, Wyoming, has been a favorite hangout for Canada Geese year round. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Dec. 11, 2011, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Plan to refresh Lake Minnehaha would benefit park visitors, including birds.”

2014 Update: The lake has been deepened and the island removed. Specially trained dogs have been hired to scare the geese away. This last summer, the geese seem to have relocated to the lakes out at F.E. Warren Air Force Base. I haven’t heard whether the lake smells better.

By Barb Gorges

What stinks at Holliday Park in the summer?

The waters of Lake Minnehaha, at 6.5 surface acres in the middle of the park, are stagnant. There isn’t enough movement and so it provides a perfect habitat for blue-green algae. In hot weather, it dies and produces the putrid smell.

This particular algal species can at times be toxic, killing dogs that drink it or sickening people coming in contact with it. It spreads on the water surface and blocks sunlight that would otherwise encourage growth of healthy organisms. Storm water runoff brings in more gunk and debris.

Teresa Moore, Planning Manager for the Cheyenne Parks and Recreation Department, invited me to read the recently compiled report from Ayres Associates proposing how to clarify the water.

  1. Deepen the lake, from 3 feet to 8 or 9, with gradual slopes where there are now eroded banks. The island would not be rebuilt.
  2. Instead of aerators, which have been tried before, install a SolarBee. The 300 already installed nationwide show they are effective in circulating water, which creates enough surface turbulence to keep blue-green algae from growing. It would be in the middle of the lake and, as the name implies, powered by attached solar cells.
  3. At the storm water inlets, put in SNOUTS, ingenious technology that collects gunk in an underground vault before it can go into the lake. Vacuuming the vault once a year would be easier than the maintenance department’s current methods.
  4. Develop wetlands– cattails and rushes–by the inlets to catch remaining sediment so it doesn’t fill in the lake over time.
  5. Route “reuse” (treated waste) water through the lake. Cheyenne has plumbed itself to use it for irrigating other parks, cemeteries and athletic fields. The water would constantly flow through new inlets and out through a new automatic outlet (the current one has to be adjusted by hand), helping prevent blue-green algae growth. Reuse water would also irrigate Holliday Park.

From my birdwatching observations at the park, blue-green algae doesn’t affect the Canada geese. By the middle of last June, I was counting 200 of them, including 40 goslings.

Canada Geese

Catching a few rays of winter sunlight, these Canada Geese rest in front of the island in Lake Minnehaha. The island has since been removed. Photo by Barb Gorges.

The adults were molting and unable to fly. By fall, wing feathers grown back in again and daily numbers (between 8 and 9 a.m.) were running 100-150. They spend time in the water, but mostly they graze the grass.

There also are a few dozen mallards and domestic ducks, three dozen white or gray domestic geese and occasional wild visitors: wood ducks, redheads and shovelers.

Removing the island would make me sad, but it would remove the major location for goose nesting. By all standards, especially the standards of people trying not to step in goose poop, there are too many geese.

By clean water standards, there is too much nitrogen in the water, some of it from goose poop. Removing the island hatchery could encourage wild geese to disburse and nest elsewhere. The island is not used as a refuge from potential predators. When the geese feel threatened, they, and their goslings, head for the water, not the island.

The black-crowned night-herons used to nest in the island’s trees, but when the big trees disappeared, they moved to the big cottonwoods to the north. Pelicans sometimes rest on the island in spring and summer, but I’ve seen them enjoy island-free lakes on F.E. Warren Air Force Base and they like a thick stand of cattails just as well.

What attracts the non-water birds are the trees. If willows are added to the shoreline, as suggested in the plan, over time, they will make up for the loss of the scrubby foliage on the island.

All of the improvements would clarify the water, allowing other organisms to grow, including the food chain that leads to fish. We might see more of the fish-eating bird species that we see at Lions Park, like the grebes.

All together, the proposed improvements would have a positive impact on birds—and other park users.

So when can the digging begin? As soon as $1.5 million can be found. The city does not have a budget line for construction in the parks, though there are many repair and improvement projects needed.

Park damage just doesn’t get the same respect a pothole does.

Because the Holliday Park project involves water and engineering, Teresa said there are some funding options. She’s an expert when it comes to writing grants, so if you have ideas, contacts or appropriate funding sources, be sure to contact her at 638-4375, or tmoore@cheyennecity.org. If you have comments on other park topics, please call 637-6429.

Canada Geese

You would think that a Canada Goose would find it better to migrate than spend winter on a frozen lake in Wyoming. Photo by Barb Gorges.

City geese love our parks too much

Domestic geese

Domestic geese at Holliday Park, dumped off by someone a few years ago, come running to see if the car that just pulled up will have people with handouts for them. They have since been removed from the park. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Published Nov. 25, 2012, in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle, “Goose population success is a messy problem for parks.” WTE online heading: “Don’t worry about the geese, they’ll be fine without our handouts.”

2014 Update: This fall the city hired someone with specially trained dogs to harass but not harm the geese at Holliday Park. We’ll see if it helps.

By Barb Gorges

As your resident bird lady, it’s time for me to bring science to the issue of too many geese in Cheyenne parks.

The domestic geese that Teddie Spier mentioned in her letter to the editor Nov. 6 are not a problem. The city can round them up any time, which they did this summer at Holliday Park, leaving behind four whites and a gray.

Mallards are common park ducks, but here they are a fraction of park waterfowl. Mid-winter, the large flock of ducks on the open water at Lions Park is made up of species eating aquatic invertebrates, not mallards begging for handouts.

It’s the wild geese, properly known as Canada geese. If one of them hails from Canada, you could refer to it as a Canadian Canada goose.

Over the last three years, I have been counting the birds at Holliday Park around 8 a.m., 10 days per month on average, recording the results at www.eBird.org. In the spring of 2010, Canada geese were numbering 60-100 per day. This spring they were running over 200. You can access my data for free by setting up your own login and password at the website.

Cheyenne geese move between the parks, golf courses, F.E. Warren Air Force Base and rural fields, so to get the big picture, look at the Cheyenne Christmas Bird Count, which strives to count geese all over town at the same time. The data is available for free at http://netapp.audubon.org/cbcobservation/Historical/SpeciesData.aspx.

I found eight Canadas were recorded in 1974, then none until 50 in 1983. In the 1990s numbers jumped into the hundreds and by 2000, to over 2000. Last year’s count was 1,332, probably not a sign of a downward trend but instead some geese may have been in fields outside the count circle.

The increase in geese, and geese that aren’t migrating, is nationwide over the last 50 years. Hunting (2 million harvested in 2002) hasn’t held back the Canadas. Plus, the birds in most parks, including ours, are safe by law. No one can hunt within city limits.

So yes, there is more goose poop in our parks than before. Because it is recycled grass, I don’t find it as objectionable as dog droppings.

At Holliday Park, goose nesting was confined to the island, but this year there were three pairs nesting off-island–three ganders hissing at park visitors trying to walk the sidewalks–for four weeks of incubation. I worry geese beaks are about eye-level with small children.

Canada geese

Canada geese hang out at Holliday Park year round. The city is trying several approaches to discourage them. Photo by Barb Gorges.

Because Canada geese and other migratory waterfowl are protected by international treaty and congressional acts, the city can’t touch them without permission from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Before the city could try addling eggs to slow population growth, FWS asked the city to have a ban on feeding birds in the parks.

According to Birds of North America Online, www.bna.birds.cornell.edu, which is summaries of scientific bird studies available to the public for an annual subscription fee, Canada geese eat grass-type plants almost exclusively, adding berries and seeds in the winter, though they’ve learned to find waste grain in farm fields.

People objecting to the city’s feeding ban, saying it’s bad for the geese especially in winter, need to keep several things in mind:

–People often feed the geese junk food rather than dried whole corn, which is what farmers have determined works for domestic geese.

–Handouts represent very little of the total diet of the 1500-plus Cheyenne geese–most of which are too busy grazing far from the parking lots.

–According to research, urban geese have adapted to a year-round diet of grass.

–Our geese often fly to nearby fields for grain.

The urban Canada goose is looking for lawns next to ponds, say the studies referenced by BNAO. I don’t foresee the city draining lakes and paving parks since people like grass and water as much as the geese do.

Where it is imperative to keep geese away, such as airport runways, harassment by dogs has some effect. But don’t try this yourself since it’s illegal to harass a federally protected species. It probably isn’t realistic to fence Holliday Park and turn it into a dog park, either.

I haven’t seen much evidence of predation except for the cormorants eyeing goslings. What we need is a way to harvest Canada geese within the city without using firearms, and to be practical, feed them to the hungry. Wild geese are very nutritious, especially when park employees work hard to grow the grass they eat.

Instead, we have to wait and see if a feeding ban and egg addling will limit the goose population. If not, we’ll be stepping around more droppings and territorial ganders.