By Luca Serio, SYRACUSE, N.Y. (NCC News) — Alison Kocek, president of the Onondaga Audubon Society, and graduate student at SUNY-ESF says that not long ago, there weren’t any bald eagles that roosted at the southern tip of Onondaga Lake in the Winter. However, thanks to the efforts to clean up the lake, eagles now congregate on Murphy’s Island, right next to Destiny Mall.
“They’re still endangered in New York State, so getting top see 100 birds in one spot is just an amazing sight,” Kocek said.
A noted birder, Kocek that the national symbol attracts a large audience to Central New York.
“Any American is generally excited to see a Bald Eagle,” Kocek said. “We’ve had people in the hundreds coming out to see the eagles on the lake this past winter from out of state, from different parts of our state, so it’s really exciting.”
Recently, however, Onondaga County officials have been pushing to finalize their plans for a one-third of a mile walking path along the lake that would cross under the area where the eagles roost. Construction of the trail would require trees to be cut down, and the additional human activity has many environmental groups speculating about the future of the eagles.
While the environmental impact of losing a predator like the bald eagle would be extremely detrimental to the ecosystem of the lake, many people are worried about the economic impact this trail could have on the area as well. Brian Carr, an Independent Consultant, and local business owner, understands how difficult the winter is on the tourism industry in Syracuse.
“Hotels in Central New York have very, very low occupancy from December until April,” Carr said. “There’s just not new business in Syracuse, there’s just not things that are going on. ”
He said that all of those hotel guests who come to see the eagles spend money locally that support businesses in the area.
“It’s the room occupancy tax that goes to Onondaga County, the purchase of gasoline, visits to restaurants and stores, it’s all a benefit to our local economy, and the bald eagles have a big impact on that,” Carr said.
The eagles roost on Murphy’s Island because the water pumped back into the lake by the waste treatment plant keeps that section of the lake unfrozen in the winter which allows for the birds to hunt. All of these conditions are part of what makes having the eagles on Onondaga lake so unique.
“There is nothing like this in the entire northeastern United States,” Carr said. “So to build one-third of a mile dead-end trail at the expense of potentially not having these beautiful birds come back here year after year would be a travesty.”
Both Carr and Kocek made statements to the Department of Environmental Conversation at a public hearing at the OnCenter on Wednesday night. The DEC has extended the window for public input until Thursday at 5 p.m.