The owners of Oak Park Estates have a simple message this winter: Please stop feeding the swans.
The swans of Oak Park have gotten quite a bit of notice lately, as their pond is currently empty. Oak Park Estates, a Belleville neighborhood, is dredging its retention pond to remove built-up silt, which has temporarily left the three swans who live there not-quite-dry — there are still pockets of water for them, though most of the pond remains empty for now.
The swans belong to Oak Park owner William Wuebbels, who bought them 15 years ago and has cared for them since at Oak Park Estates’ retention pond. Henry and Hannah are the original swans, and they’ve had children over the years who invariably left the Oak Park pond. Their most recent baby, however, has decided to hang around, and no one has named it yet, according to Wuebbels and the neighbors.
But for some reason, this year’s dredging of the pond has led to what Wuebbels says is misplaced concern for the swans’ well-being. He is feeding them grain and corn twice a day, providing them water and making sure they’re safe, he said.
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Meanwhile, Wuebbels said, they’re fending off a stream of well-meaning trespassers who insist of feeding the swans and have threatened to steal them and put them in a garage for the winter — which would mean a quick death for wildlife accustomed to the outdoors and cold temperatures, Wuebbels said.
“It’s like common sense is out the window,” he said. The pond is drained and dredged every five or six years, but only this time has it created this kind of controversy, he said.
In fact, some of the neighbors are pretty annoyed at the stream of swan-sitters. “The swans are fine,” said Dawn Hill, whose home overlooks the pond. “The swans are getting too fat, people are feeding them too much… (The Wuebbels) are good people; they’ve taken care of the swans for 14 years.”
Neighbor Deborah Heidemann, who is new to the neighborhood, said she and her uncle were originally concerned, but then observed Wuebbels feeding and watering the swans. “Someone is feeding them, that was my concern,” she said. “But they’ve been walking down to check on them, putting out water and feed.”
Billie Nash, who lives right next to the pond, said he’s been watching the swans pretty closely — they tend to rest right under his windows. And they’re fine, he said — very well fed.
Too well fed, Wuebbels said. If people intended to help him feed the swans, they need to feed them the proper food, he said. “Do not feed them stale bread and popcorn and doughnuts and Cheez-its,” he said. “Please don’t feed them junk.”
The empty pond will fill up soon with runoff and rain, Wuebbels said. He said he does not want to fill it up with costly city water because of the treatment chemicals added to city water, and said the rain has usually been sufficient to refill the pond in years past — perhaps when it isn’t as cold and dry as it has been the last few weeks.
“We can’t control Mother Nature,” Wuebbels said.
In the meantime, Wuebbels said, he consulted with the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department, which checked out the pond and the swans and recommended that he post “no trespassing” signs to keep anyone from approaching or stealing the swans — or tossing them leftover doughnuts.