April 1, 2014

Don’t feed the wildlife, Sedgwick County Park asks public

Attention squirrels, ducks and geese of Sedgwick County Park: The smorgasbord is closing.

Attention squirrels, ducks and geese of Sedgwick County Park: The smorgasbord is closing.

The county is discouraging visitors from feeding wildlife in the popular park nestled between 13th and 21st streets near Ridge Road.

Mark Sroufe, superintendent of the park, says wildlife is becoming too tame and too dependent on people who like to feed the creatures bread, popcorn, nuts and other snacks.

Ducks and geese are flocking to a new enclosed shelter that park workers are building, “thinking they’re going to get fed,” Sroufe said.

“The squirrels will come take stuff right out of your hand, they’re that tame,” he said. “They’re spoiled is what they are.”

He joked that the squirrels know how to work it.

They look up “at you like they’re your cat in your house,” he said.

Sroufe said he understands some people like to feed the critters, but they are approaching vehicles hoping for snacks and, in some cases, getting run over.

“We’re getting roadkill from them being so tame,” he said.

One woman used to bring walnuts to the park to feed the squirrels, Sroufe said.

People feeding wildlife hasn’t been a problem at Lake Afton Park, for which Sroufe also is superintendent.

Signs that proclaim “Please do not feed the wildlife. Help keep the area clean and healthy” went up earlier this year across Sedgwick County Park.

The city of Wichita has had such signs up for years at Riverside Park, O.J. Watson Park and other parks, said Stacey Hamm, marketing and development director for Wichita Park and Recreation. Full-time staff at Watson Park enforce the ordinance there, she said. Wichita police officers will enforce the ordinance not to feed wildlife as they patrol parks, she said in an e-mail.

“The rest of the time is self-enforcement/peer enforcement per se,” she said.

Sroufe readily admits he doesn’t have the staff or time at the moment to enforce the rule at Sedgwick County Parks. But he hopes people will abide by it.

“If you’ll even give them five peanuts instead of 10, I’d be happy,” he joked. “I think we’re fighting a losing battle, but I think we had to at least try.”

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