Squirrel feeding discouraged in Legion Park

Photo by Greg Eans, Messenger-Inquirer.com | geans@messenger-inquirer.com A posted sign notifies the public to refrain from feeding squirrels in the 24 acre Legion Park Tuesday in Owensboro.

Beware of the squirrels, and don't feed them, either.

According to officials with Owensboro's Parks and Recreation Department, feeding the four-legged, bushy-tailed fiends in Legion Park is causing "aggressive behavior." To put a stop to it, the department has recently installed "Do Not Feed the Squirrels" signs throughout the park, bucking a longtime Owensboro tradition.

"We all know that it's not a good practice, and probably not healthy for the animals, but who could resist those fuzzy little creatures begging while standing on their back feet," says Owensboro resident Tony Minton. "That's just what you do, especially if you have young children with you. And who hasn't done that before? I guess old habits can change, and I won't feed the squirrels in Legion Park anymore. I do wonder if some of the longtime hard-core feeders will cease regardless of the signs. It's another passing of an old tradition that I'll miss -- like feeding the ducks at Panther Creek and Yellow Creek parks."

It's unfortunate but necessary, said Parks and Recreation Director Amanda Rogers this week.

The department has been bombarded by calls from the public this summer saying that the squirrels in Legion Park have become overly aggressive with lunch-goers, picnickers -- really anyone with a tasty morsal in tow. It's the department's belief that squirrel feeders in the park have trained the critters over time and that a particularly wet spring this year has limited the squirrels' regular food supply overall.

"The population of squirrels is higher and the food supply is smaller," Rogers said. "We've received so many calls from people who say that the squirrels aren't responding to the usual shew away and they're even climbing on people to steal food out of their hands. Some people have had concerns because they may have illnesses or lower immune responses, and they're particularly afraid that the squirrels may bite or scratch them. We haven't heard any reports of that, but it always remains a concern."

It's not unusual to see parkgoers bring a bag of peanuts for the squirrels or even leave out a bit of extra food for them after they've left.

To some, it's a cute, quirky part of a trip to the park, Rogers said, and she understands the tradition it's started. But, at the end of the day, it's unnatural, and it does have the potential to put both human- and squirrel-kind in danger.

"What humans eat and what squirrels eat usually aren't the same things," she said. "Some people leave their trash out in the park for the squirrels, and that can lead them to ingest or get suck in things. That's not OK. Plus, we've witnessed squirrels coming up to cars in the parking lot, and that isn't safe for anybody."

So, the department is calling for a truce between humans and the woodland creatures in the park. It's big enough for both, she said, but no mixing. The department doesn't have the resources or time to enforce the no-feeding signs, she said, but it is now a policy not to encourage or endorse squirrel-feeding.

Austin Ramsey, 270-691-7302, aramsey@messenger-inquirer.com, Twitter: @austinrramsey

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