On Sept. 22, our outdoors writer, Mike Lynch, was driving down state Route 28 on his way to an Associated Press journalism conference in Syracuse (where, by the way, he picked up a first-place award for best beat coverage in papers of less than 25,000 circulation) when he noticed that deer were all over downtown Old Forge: crossing in traffic, grazing on lawns and bushes, and showing little fear of the steady stream of cars and pedestrians going by and sometimes stopping to gawk at them.
There was a lot of traffic for them to shrug off, too. It was warm, late-summer weather, the leaves were starting to turn, and tourists were out and about in this hamlet that sees plenty of visitors.
Being the award-winning outdoor beat writer that he is, Mike stopped and took pictures.
(Enterprise photo — Mike Lynch)
Two days later, on his way back, there were the deer again, just as much a presence in town as they had been before. So he took more photos.
All told, he saw dozens, in groups as large as seven.
The deer have "become part of the atmosphere" in downtown Old Forge over the last 30 years or so, according to Robert Moore, supervisor of the town of Webb, which includes Old Forge.
"They are less than unusual," he said, adding conspicuously, "I don't know if I would use the term normal."
That's because he thinks a "normal" deer is one that forages for food in the woods, not one that has gotten used to handouts and lost its fear of humans and their big, fast, sometimes deadly vehicles.
"Because they have become so tame, they do cross highways more often than normal deer," Moore said, acknowledging that car-deer collisions are also less than unusual.
He also recalled an "unsavory" interaction between a deer and a human on foot: A deer kicked his niece with its front hooves about 15 years ago when she was a grade-schooler.
On the other hand, the deer "have become an attraction" in a community whose economy requires attractions.
"I think you probably get a mixed reaction" from local residents about the downtown deer, Moore said. "It's a ticklish issue."
His personal opinion is that the deer would be better off in the woods.
"They fend very well for themselves in the wild," he said. "Their natural behavior has been altered because of the convenience of handouts."
Those handouts weren't all amazed tourists feeding them Twinkies; the town of Webb was responsible for a lot of them. Moore said the town even fed cracked corn to deer at the McCauley Mountain Ski Area from the 1970s until about 10 years ago.
These days, feeding the deer is expressly illegal.
"Is it really in the best interest of the wild things?" he asked rhetorically. "I don't think so."