SARANAC LAKE - The Saranac Lake Central School District's new goose poop removal machine got a trial run Thursday afternoon on the high school's practice football field.
The Nature Sweep, purchased from a company of the same name in British Columbia, Canada, for $9,770, will be used to clean up goose feces from the district's athletic fields.
The district decided to purchase the machine after it called off a controversial plan to round up and kill the dozens of geese that have been living and defecating on its property, creating what school officials described as a health hazard for students.
The Saranac Lake Central School District’s new goose poop remover was put into service Thursday cleaning up goose feces on the practice football field next to the high school.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"When we made a decision to not kill the geese, some people thought that was the end of it," Superintendent Gerald Goldman said Thursday, when asked why the district bought the machine. "But the problem didn't go away. I've still got kids rolling around in goose feces, and I've got their parents calling me."
As a sign the problem still exists, the district's athletic director, Mark Farmer, said he counted and chased off 67 geese Sunday on the practice football field.
The Nature Sweep is a self-contained machine that can be pulled behind a lawn tractor. It uses a gas-powered engine to drive a brush system that's designed to pick up goose feces without damaging the grass. The feces is then deposited into a large, plastic hopper.
But does it work?
After watching one of his employees use the Nature Sweep on the practice football field Thursday, Lee Daunais, the district's director of facilities, said yes.
"I'm impressed," he said. "The guy told me, 'Lee, after you have this a week, you or Gerry will call me and thank me.' I think he's right. I really do."
Daunais said it will take about two hours to clean one field with the machine. He said the district plans to use the Nature Sweep on a regular basis, but only on the fields where the geese have been congregating.
"The last five years, the amount of time we've put into the geese, and the amount of money we've spent with gimmicks trying to do something, I think this will be cost effective compared to that," he said.
Daunais said the district plans to create compost using the collected goose feces.
After other methods to get rid of the geese proved ineffective, the school board voted in May to hire the U.S. Department of Agriculture for $2,500 to round up and euthanize the birds. The federal agency planned to euthanize the birds in a carbon dioxide chamber.
But the board's decision was met with a firestorm of criticism from some local residents and the Humane Society of the United States, which called it an "inhumane, ineffective and unnecessary geese slaughter." Supporters, however, commended the board for protecting the health of its students.
Although the board never backed down, its plan became complicated by unforeseen circumstances. The USDA planned to round up the birds during the molting period in late June and early July, when they're flightless and can be captured. By early June, however, the birds had moved elsewhere and the plan to round-up the geese was eventually called off.
Goldman said he discovered the Nature Sweep when he started searching online for ways other communities have dealt with similar problems. When he decided to buy the machine, some people were skeptical, Goldman explained.
"I went out on a limb," he said. "Everyone looked at me and said, 'Do you really want to do this?' I said, 'Get it here.' We couldn't just sit back here and do nothing."
Dan Bower, the district's assistant superintendent for business, said the Nature Sweep retails for $15,000. He said the district got a deal on a demonstration model that had been reconditioned.
School officials aren't just relying on the Nature Sweep as the answer to their goose problems. At its meeting Wednesday night, the school board voted to create a "Goose Committee" made up of board members, school officials and local residents to look into other, long-term options for dealing with the geese.