By Karen Carr Keefe
Senior Contributing Writer
To mow or not to mow – that is the question.
It’s an especially vexing question for those West River Road residents and visitors who fear that ticks enjoy tall grasses, but say that people prefer a tick-free and clear view of the Niagara River as they bike, hike or walk their dogs along the bike path along the West River.
The Town Board had an answer to that question at its June 5 meeting: Mow it!
They agreed with a request from the West River Property Owners Association and park users to cut down the tall grasses, referred to as “high mow areas.”
The board voted unanimously to tell the state to fulfill its promise to mow down high grasses, according to its own pledge in 2016. The state had said that once West River Parkway was no longer a road but a bike path, “the park will be maintained as a parkland with increased mowing and pruning of vegetation.”
The resolution the town passed said that “In a recent survey, 226 of 232 respondents were opposed to high mow areas” of tall grasses. “The residents’ position is that high mow sections do not belong in residential neighborhoods. They create tick, mosquito and rodent breeding grounds that should not be part of any mowing plan in a residential area.”
The resolution further state that “inspection of high mow areas in May 2023 found unsightly un-mowed areas that obstruct sightlines to the river and that are unsightly.”
In voting in favor of the state mowing down the high grasses and vegetation, Councilmember Michael Madigan said, “People expect that the area in their neighborhood should be well-maintained. And what we’re seeing in this case … it’s a mess. When it’s high, it’s unsightly, there is a tick issue,” he said. “It’s the high grass where the ticks are.”
Prior to the board’s vote, Elaine and Mike O’Neill, residents of West River Parkway for 37 years, expressed the view, in the board’s first public comment section on agenda items, that frequent mowing of the grasses along the bike path does not necessarily reduce the tick population there, contrary to recent warnings from the homeowners association.
Elaine O’Neill read a statement on the landscape, grass-cutting plan for West River Parkway. She said she’s witnessed a range of grass-cutting plans, including the state Department of Transportation monthly cutting “to the current ecologically mindful, long-term plan unfolding under the guidance of New York State Parks. What I’ve learned is that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution for those of us living in the unique situation of having a state park as our front lawn. What I know is that New York state parks management of the Niagara River watershed is a huge responsibility.”
She cited the mission of the Niagara River Greenway to ensure the restoration of healthy ecosystem for the Niagara region and stated, “Our parkway is an integral part of that ecosystem.”
“Recently I’ve received some rather alarming information about the dangers of ticks on the bike path.” She said the warnings came in emails from her homeowner’s association. “We have two dogs and we enjoy using the path regularly.” She said she did some research and couldn’t find any recent studies that link an increase in tick population to high mow policies.
“In fact, most current information on the subject states the opposite.” She said a fairly comprehensive study in 2019 in Springfield, Massachusetts, showed that “Taller grasses did not result in more ticks.” But she said the high grasses do support higher abundances of a diversity of native plants and benefits to wildlife such as pollinators and other ecosystem services associated with urban biodiversity.”
Grace Jones, an East River resident, spoke out in favor of short grass and frequent mowing. She said that even though she enjoys bike riding, she won’t go to the West River bike path because when she did, “the ticks were on my legs from the high grasses. I couldn’t see the river because it’s overgrown (the grass and vegetation), and it’s not being maintained, so to use the bike path to get a view of the river is ridiculous.”
She also said that it took her hours to clean “goose poop” off her bicycle. “I don’t go there and ride because the ticks are out of control, and the high grass does increase ticks, whether it’s a statistic or not. You know if you walk through your yard in the spring and the grass is knee-deep, you’re going to have a tick on you. Once you mow it, they seem to disperse.”
Also speaking in favor of keeping the grass mowed frequently were speakers Sandy Nelson and Paula Sciuk.
Joe Short of the West River Property Owners Association said the homeowners who favor frequent mowing have facts to back them up from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He asked, referring to the studies cited that support of an ecosystem approach that benefits biodiversity, “Who made that decision that we want wildlife in our front yard?”