"Cast thy bread upon the waters," the good book says, and at the Pymatuning State Park spillway, visitors have taken this injunction literally. The result is a squirming mass of carp with ducks and geese walking on their backs to get their daily bread.
This extraordinary sight -- like a rush-hour New York subway of fins and feathers -- draws the curious in large numbers to be amazed, thrilled or appalled. As it is, the park in Crawford County ranks second among the state's 117 parks with more than 3.3 million visitors annually. The spillway attracts 300,000 of those people.
But feeding wildlife is not always a good idea and, while fish on the bread line is one thing, Canada geese have been using the handouts to fuel their abundant droppings. The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources decided last summer to allow fish-pellet feeding but ban feeding the fish with bread and other bakery products.
After fans of the fish feeding raised an outcry, the agency wisely decided to postpone the new policy while it studied the problem. This week, after hearing from residents, merchants, visitors and state representatives, State Parks Director John Norbeck decided that the bread feeding can continue "for the foreseeable future."
Those disappointed by the latest score -- Tourism 1, Environment 0 -- can take heart that Mr. Norbeck said his department will look for successful approaches to address the overpopulation of geese. And officials will try to get visitors to voluntarily limit themselves to bread or fish pellets, not throw other foodstuffs upon the waters.
While the fish feeding is an anomaly to be discouraged elsewhere, DCNR was right to respect tradition here. When local lawmakers had a public meeting in Linesville last September, some 350 people showed up. Who knew that fish had so many friends?
First published on February 21, 2009