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Draining of Utah County's Spring Lake for repairs sparks concern for feathered residents

Ducks swim on Spring Lake a few minutes before dusk. The city of Payson, which owns the water rights at Utah County's Spring Lake, announced it will be drained for much-needed repairs and cleaning.

Ducks swim on Spring Lake a few minutes before dusk. The city of Payson, which owns the water rights at Utah County's Spring Lake, announced it will be drained for much-needed repairs and cleaning. (Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News)


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SPRING LAKE, Utah County — Three days a week, Justin Knowles goes to Spring Lake to serve lunch to his friends. The lunch consists of whole corn and the occasional lettuce and bread for dessert — all served buffet style in an all-you-can-eat fashion.

Oh, and did we forget to mention that his friends are all birds?

Knowles, who lives in Santaquin, heads to the lake every other day to feed the birds. But it isn't just a favorite pastime of his; it is something that he has committed to do to keep these birds alive and well.

"I started coming out to Spring Lake to go for walks, and I met Kris and Ron Hughes who used to feed the birds," Knowles said. "When Ron was injured, my wife and I offered to take over."

It isn't just a few birds, however. Spring Lake is a fowl mecca with 137 species of birds. But there is something that sets many of these birds apart from those one might see at many other lakes: They are domestic, meaning, Spring Lake is their home. In fact, many of these birds were left at the lake by former owners.

Because of this, the birds not only don't migrate, but they have continued to breed and populate the lake.

Earlier this month, however, the city of Payson, which owns the water rights at the site, announced that the lake will be drained for much-needed repairs and cleaning. The draining, while warranted, will displace the birds.

Longtime Spring Lake resident Kris Hughes, who used to feed the birds, recalled a time years ago when the lake was drained, and how hard it was for her feathered friends.

"These birds really have nowhere to go," Kris Hughes said. "They get really scared of the machines, and will go and hide, and many of them end up losing their lives."

Hughes said that she understands the need to clean up the lake, but is worried about the birds. Unfortunately, there's not much she or anyone can do about it.

When jurisdiction meets nobody

The draining of Spring Lake was announced widely by the Utah Division of Wildlife Resources, and was directed mainly to anglers. In a press release, Utah DWR increased the daily fishing limit to eight fish a day in an effort to "harvest the fish, so they aren't wasted."

Asked what can be done about the birds while the lake is being repaired, Utah DWR spokeswoman Faith Jolley, said there is nothing the agency can do.

"We don't oversee domesticated ducks or other animals, so we don't really have any jurisdiction over the decision of what will happen to those birds," she said.

Simply put, Utah DWR oversees the fish in the lake because they fall under the umbrella of wildlife, but due to the domesticated nature of the birds, however, they do not.

KSL.com was directed to the city of Payson, which oversees water in the city of Spring Lake and overseeing the repairs to the lake. Again, there were no answers.

Payson Water Superintendent Cameron Phillips expressed his concern for the birds, saying that he is also concerned about the ducks, but doesn't know what could be done about them while the lake is being repaired.

"From what I understand, there will be a little bit of water in the lake while the repairs are being done," Phillips said. "There are a few little streams where the birds can be in, but other than that, there isn't anything we can do right now."

Growing concern for feathered friends

"I don't know what's going to happen," Knowles said about the birds he feeds. "I know there are nearby streams, but this lake really serves as a protection from predators. Without it, I am worried the birds will get hurt or killed."

Knowles acknowledged that in the wild, birds and predators meet often, but he said that this situation is different.

"These birds are not in the wild," he said. "They are here because people put them here, and they don't have anywhere else to go to be protected. When we change their environment, it really is our job to protect them."

Knowles joked about bringing them all home with him, knowing full well that it isn't possible. That being said, his bird-feeding predecessor Kris Hughes has been known to bring home an injured duck or two to nurse back to health.

Knowles, who feeds the birds on his own time and dime, said that even if he can't offer a home or protection, he will find a way to get food to them during the repairs.

"I've really grown attached to the birds," Knowles said. "There is a big mallard that comes up to me each time I'm there. I call him Oswald. There is a goose with a big bump on his nose who my wife calls Papa Goose. We love the birds, and we will find a way to feed them regardless."

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Arianne Brown has been a contributing writer at KSL.com for many years with a focus of sharing heartwarming stories.

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