For as long as Ann Pinell can remember, probably since she moved to Green Mountain Falls in 1955, she has been feeding the ducks and geese that spend their summers living near the lake in the heart of town.
In fact, many residents and tourists over the years have fed the waterfowl. (Heck, I recall feeding the ducks with my brothers when I was a kid. And I’ve taken my children to the lake to make similar memories.)
But the beloved Green Mountain Falls tradition is in peril.
It could all end Tuesday when Ann goes before the town judge to defend herself from a ticket she received from the town marshal for feeding the waterfowl.
Specifically, the 76-year-old was feeding Roy, a domesticated Chinese goose that showed up about six years ago and became the town’s unofficial mascot because it is unable to fly away.
“I got the ticket on Labor Day,” Ann said. “It was a really busy day in town. I was trying to get Roy and the others off the road.”
Ann doesn’t want Roy or any of the ducks to end up like Rudy, a pure white goose that was killed by a car a few years ago.
“Rudy was Roy’s best friend,” Ann said while recalling how she and others buried the goose in an old well. “All the town knew Rudy. He used to go to all the shops.”
Most of the town’s 1,000 residents know Ann, too. She’s recognized by many as the Goose Lady of Green Mountain Falls because of her dedication to the waterfowl. For years, she has carried a bag of corn to lead them away from the road.
Just as important has been her work rescuing ducks and geese that become tangled in fishing line left behind by anglers. As they struggle, the line gets tighter, cutting them to the bone and crippling them.
I met Ann in June 2012 and wrote about her work. That day, I watched families wander around the lake and nearby park, tossing breadcrumbs and corn to the waterfowl. (And I saw no signs declaring the act illegal.)
But not everyone in Green Mountain Falls likes the ducks and geese, or Ann for that matter. In fact, that very issue is at the heart of a raging debate.
Of course, it seems like every conversation in the little town 10 miles or so west of Colorado Springs has been raging recently. A rift in the community has led to loud disagreements at town board meetings and city staff quitting en masse.
In talking to various residents and reading Facebook posts and online accounts, it appears Ann is caught in the clash.
Longtime residents I spoke with generally support Ann and her work. They love the tradition and cherish the animals that live alongside them in Pike National Forest.
“Wildlife is part of the joy of our little town,” Ann said.
Some residents seem to resent the wildlife, however. They want the bears removed. Other critters annoy them, too. And they especially hate the ducks and geese, which seemed to flourish during our cool, wet summer.
They don’t like the mess left by the waterfowl along the lakeshore and in the gazebo, a landmark that dates to 1890 that the town rents out for weddings.
Even Ann recognizes goose poop is a problem and weekly takes it upon herself to clean the gazebo.
“Since our maintenance crew quit, there was no one to clean it,” she said.
But the controversy is about more than the poop. The idea of breaking for waterfowl crossing the road enrages some of the townspeople.
“A few people don’t want anything to slow them down,” Ann said. “But the babies do go across the road to the park. And people have to wait.”
That’s why Ann carries the bag of corn. She lures the ducks and geese back to their nesting area to keep them out of the path of motorists. She does it every night and has been doing it for years.
But it appears to me that somebody in Green Mountain Falls decided to make an example of Ann. On Labor Day they spied her with her corn feeding Roy and the other waterfowl, called Marshal Tim Bradley and demanded she be ticketed, Ann told me. (I called and left messages for Bradley but never heard back.)
I looked at the town’s ordinance. While it prohibits feeding wildlife, it doesn’t define wildlife to include waterfowl.
I also checked with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which confirmed it’s illegal to feed large game animals such as elk, deer, bear, bighorn sheep, pronghorn and mountain goats. Abbie Walls, agency spokeswoman, added the feeding of any wildlife is strongly discouraged. But there is no law against feeding waterfowl.
The division in town over feeding the ducks and geese goes all the way to the top.
Consider Mayor Lorrie Worthey’s reaction when she heard Ann had been ticketed.
“When I found out, I was like, ‘Really? Are you serious. Why are we doing this?’” Worthey said. “It’s crazy. I grew up feeding the ducks. My own children feed the ducks. We’ve all done it.”
Others had a similar response, and the issue remains a hot topic on social media.
“It’s bigger than I would have thought,” Worthey said.
Worthey said she didn’t want to comment on the specifics of the case until Ann gets her day in court.
But she hopes to tackle the question about feeding waterfowl soon.
“The town board is going to talk about the situation at our meeting Tuesday night,” Worthey said. “Maybe we can figure something out.”
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