October 23, 2021

Deer park looking for bucks

Travis Dunn/staff reporter

One of Cortland’s captive deer herd comes out of the woods and approaches a feeding trough Wednesday afternoon at the city’s waterworks.

The city’s captive deer herd may soon have more room to roam. The herd, which consists of about 40 deer, lives in a fenced enclosure of about 12 acres near the waterworks on Broadway — a city tradition since the 1950s.

A larger enclosure for the deer was one of the recommendations that came out of a recent inspection by state officials, according to Paul Sandy, the city’s deputy police chief, who has been the volunteer steward of the deer park since 2010. But the recommended changes, he said, will require money, and he seeks to set up a GoFundMe page to elicit donations from residents.

Sandy said officials from the state Department of Agriculture and Markets as well as the state Department of Environmental Conservation and Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine spent three hours on Oct. 23 inspecting the deer herd and its enclosure.

“It was the most exhaustive and intensive inspection we’ve had in years,” he said.
Some of the inspectors’ recommendations carry a price tag, such as the suggestion to increase the fence height to 9 feet — something that Sandy said has already been done to most but not all of the fencing.

But the inspectors also want the fencing secured at the bottom to keep out dogs, foxes and other animals, and they want the area of enclosure to be enlarged. They also suggested that covers be placed over the feeders and that a wind shelter be built for the deer.

Sandy said he is talking with employees of the waterworks about enclosing a new area at the back of the waterworks property that would increase the total enclosed area by about 50 percent. This new fencing would be in the back of the waterworks that is not visible from the Broadway side of the property; the fencing would continue to the SUNY Cortland stadium fencing.

“That’s going to be one of the major expenses,” said Sandy.

He said he is also considering covering the possible new fencing to make wind breaks that would serve the same function as a wind shelter, but he said he still needs to check with DEC officials to see if this would be acceptable.

All of these improvements would require money, so Sandy intends to set up a GoFundMe account to raise money for the projects.

Tuesday night, he got approval for the city Common Council to go ahead with the fundraising effort.

Until now, Sandy has used money generated from the police department’s annual bicycle auction to provide funding for the deer park. Mike Dexter, a volunteer who regularly feeds the deer, said money also comes from redeemable bottles and cans that residents drop off in a bin at the waterworks near the deer park.

But that money won’t be enough to cover the suggested expenses, said Sandy, which is why the GoFundMe page will be necessary. He said a page should be up and running in the next two weeks.

Sandy said the deer are a popular attraction for city residents, who daily stop by the waterworks to view deer and the ducks.

“That’s why we do it,” he said. “We do it for the public.”

Sandy also said that the deer nicknamed Sparky — who had drawn attention in recent months because of his bulged-out chipmunk-like cheeks — was in good health.

Wednesday afternoon, Sparky was the first deer to come out of the woods when Dexter went out to feed them. Both cheeks still continue to bulge — the left cheek more than the right.

According to Sandy, wildlife experts, including a veterinarian from Cornell University, said that Sparky is healthy.

“They all agreed that this happens in the wild,” he said. “They think it’s caused by nerves in the face not working properly.”