If you’re driving near Turner Lake, there is a good chance you may have to stop and wait for pedestrians.
These aren’t your typical pedestrians, though; these pedestrians have feathers, beaks and wings and have absolutely no respect for crosswalks or traffic laws.
The flock of geese that inhabits the area around Turner Lake is prone to wander up to the traffic roundabout directly outside the complex and surrounding streets, and it seems that more and more often lately the geese have been wandering into the roadway, halting traffic as they take their sweet time crossing.
Cute, they are. But according to visitors to Turner Lake Park and the Newton County Recreation Commission, the geese are also messy and often cantankerous. They may be getting a little too comfortable with humans.
Most drivers don’t seem bothered by the geese, as traffic at the roundabout is fairly slow-moving, anyway. It can even be touching to see motorists go out of their way to ensure safe crossing, but many are worried that the geese will get hit.
While geese have been frequenting Turner Lake Park for decades, it appears that aggressive incidents are becoming more and more common.
Human visitors to Turner Lake have always enjoyed the feathered creatures, offering meals of bread and other traditionally-thought-of "duck food." However, bakery-to-beak feeding is not good for the goose’s — or the duck’s — diet. Such bread items tend to act like junk food in the birds’ systems, leading to health problems.
The Newton County Recreation Commission tried to curb the junk-food feeding by adding food dispensers for fish and fowl. The machines were put in by an outside company at no cost to the county.
"A lot of people would bring bread and feed them and people requested regular duck food," said former NCRC Director Tommy Hailey.
However, as the geese have become accustomed to human hands and lost their fear, they have sometimes been aggressive. Visitors to Turner Lake report being chased, hissed at and nipped by the geese.
"Last summer, I took the kids and they chased us … slipped and fell, busted my knee, scraped my hands and elbows. Ended up with a small scar on my shin where I fell into the open metal pipe that the water runs through. Haven’t been back," said Regina Bunn Lonnquist in a Facebook comment.
Also, there have been complaints that the geese are making a mess that isn’t being properly cleaned up.
"I know they are making a mess on the walkways by the pavilion. They never did this until the machine to feed them was put in. Now there is geese poop all over the place by the lake. I stopped going all together after one of them chased my little dog," said Traci Gilliam Barlow, another Facebook user.
It’s no wonder the geese cause a sanitation problem for the park and make a mess on the walkways: Just 50 geese can produce 2.5 tons of excrement a year, according to National Geographic.
The NCRC cleans up the mess on the pavilions and fishing pier, but, with the constant flow of food into the geese, well, the problem keeps recurring.
"It’s hard to keep it clean," NCRC Assistant Director Anthony Avery said. "You can clean it right now and in five minutes it’s messy again.
The NCRC is discussing whether it should remove the feeders in order to reduce the mess and return the geese to a more natural state.
"They’re cute and all, but once you get into the cleanup problem and other issues, we have to decide if it’s worth it or not," Avery said. "It’s an up-and-down situation; it’s good for people seeing them out and they’re pretty much teaching kids nature and about the park, but the messy part is the cleanup."
Despite the complaints about the occasional aggression and the mess, many park visitors find them to be beautiful creatures and enjoy the opportunity to see and interact with them.
"I don’t mind stopping for traffic. As long as they don’t have babies around, I enjoy them, apart from the new sanitation issue due to the feeding machines," added Lonnquist to her previous comment.