BY ALYSON DETCH | COMMUNITY NEWS SERVICE | OCTOBER 15, 2020
Geprags Park has closed off a portion of the park from dogs in order to protect habitat of ground-nesting birds.
Dog walkers found a sign at the entrance of Geprags Park that dogs were no longer allowed on the trails. The prohibition only applies to the western side of the park where the wetlands and streams are. It is essential to keep the wetlands safe in order to protect the birds and water quality, said Kate Kelly, chair of the Conservation Commission in Hinesburg.
“Two years ago, we started working on a management plan for Geprags park, which was essentially to update a plan that had been in place and had been created…I want to say like two decades ago,” Kelly said. The town now knows that rare birds nest in the park.
Mark LaBarr, a bird expert and the Conversation Program Manager of Audubon Vermont, said in an email that dogs affect Geprags’ wildlife.
“By closing off the section to dogs, it lowers the impact on ground-nesting birds, especially in the open fields, which have been home to Eastern Meadowlarks in the past. It also reduces any fecal matter from running into the wetland and stream.”
Erosion of the sediments and the waste left over by the dogs in the water could cause an algae bloom skin, Kelly said. Although water quality was one of the main factors of the management plan, it was largely about protecting the birds.
“Pets can have a negative impact on wildlife, creating additional stress on a variety of species. As for birds nests on or close to the ground, (they) can be destroyed and in extreme cases, birds can be killed,” LaBarr said.
“People come from even from other countries and like, come to Geprags to visit the birds there because they’re just it’s just a really good spot to see some of these species,” LaBarr said. “That was one of our conservation focuses, was to try to do what we can, you know, to promote the habitat for these birds.”
Kelly said she encourages the public to come to their meetings and have a discussion. The Commission held public meetings and posted on Facebook to motivate the public to be involved with the process.
The Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting & Documentary Storytelling program.