Wild, Wild Life

Lurking in the Shadows (and Streams) of Frederick are Residents who Found a Great Place to Live—and They Don't Care to Leave

By Nancy Luse | Posted on 06.23.13 – Feature, Frederick Scene, People & Places

The City of Frederick is teeming with wildlife and we don’t just mean what’s found in Downtown bars on a weekend night. In other words, think snapping turtle, not Greene Turtle. Even as the city continues to grow with people, commerce and traffic, someone apparently forgot to tell the critters that this was strictly a domestic pets-only town. Recalling some recent wildlife sightings, Animal Control Director Harold Domer says reports of raccoons rooting through garbage cans are fairly common and also mentioned a skunk sighting on East 5th Street, foxes in Worman’s Mill and a bear being spotted not too long ago on the VFW golf course on the Golden Mile.

Susan Harding, public information officer for the city, says raccoons and opossums are “living in the underground conduits running through the city,” with other wild animal sightings including a snapping turtle, a mink in Baker Park and industrious beavers that constructed a dam in Carroll Creek.

The Baker Park beavers were nothing if not persistent in trying to establish an outpost. In 1999, a male and female beaver were trapped and relocated after felling six trees. Two years later a beaver tried setting up shop near Schifferstadt Architectural Museum and a year after that another beaver in the area found itself taking a little taxpayer-funded ride to new environs. Dana French, who was president of the Friends of Baker Park during the most destructive beaver siege, says he was amazed by how fast the animals worked at dropping the trees. “It was almost overnight,” he says. “The trees weren’t huge, maybe six or four inches in diameter,” but it was quick.

French chuckles as he relates how his neighbor, a muralist, painted a Frederick cityscape in her house and included a fallen tree with a beaver standing beside it.

French says living alongside Baker Park “is like I died and went to heaven” and enjoys the animal life, including a heron that sometimes startles strollers and runners when it takes off or lands with its huge wingspan.

Corralling a large convention of Culler Lake wild ducks—800 at one point—was also on the agenda during his presidency with Friends of Baker Park. “Maryland law says you can’t do bad things to them,” French says, so signs went up around the lake asking people not to feed the ducks in hopes that the feathered friends would take the hint and leave, but eventually the state allowed a number of ducks to be captured in nets and taken out into the country for release.

Louis Bell, of Walkersville, who routinely walks around the park, says he once encountered a woman with a dog who was engaged by city officials to scatter the Canada geese. “It amazed me how the dog only ran off the geese and not the ducks,” he says.


John Byl, owner of JB’s Wildlife Removal Service in Walkersville, has been in business eight years and says most of his work is with squirrels and raccoons taking up residence in attics and chimneys.

“I love it,” Byl says of his work. “Every house is different, every entry point is different … as soon as an animal can squeeze his head in, they can flatten out and get the rest of their bodies in.” Both old and new houses are targets of the tenacious animals. “I’ve seen raccoons rip a hole in a roof to get in.”

Although Frederick has plenty of clustered belfries, Byl says the city doesn’t have near the bat problem as in Walkersville. “Walkersville is full of bats,” he says. “It’s mainly in attics” and the bat excrement left behind can pose a health problem. “In some cases we have to get down to removing all the insulation, it’s that bad.”

As to being called to respond to anything exotic, say a crocodile under the Community Bridge on Carroll Street or climbing from a storm sewer, Byl says not so far, but, “I’d like that. It would be quite an adventure.”

The county is full of deer and sometimes one will come to town. Harding recalls that two years ago a deer got into a channel near Diggs Pool off of South Bentz Street and “unfortunately he drowned under the Court Street bridge.”

That incident aside, Domer says that thankfully deer encounters are few in Downtown; they’re more in outlying residential neighborhoods. “A deer in Downtown would be a problem. Once they’re alarmed they can go in any direction and you know a motorist is not going to be prepared for a deer in the city.”

Domer, who is approaching his 11th year at the helm of Animal Control, also served 27 years on the Frederick City Police force where he had seen it all, including back in the late 1970s when a man in a second floor apartment in the first block of West Patrick Street had a pet lion, although obviously not for long. Domer’s wife, Barbara Domer, who also was on the force at the time and is now Circuit Court Administrator, recalls making the arrest and that the man had the big cat in a cage. Mary Anne Hahn at the Catoctin Wildlife Preserve & Zoo in Thurmont remembers that the zoo received the lion, weighing around 125 pounds and not yet fully grown, “to establish that it was healthy and then passed it along, probably to another zoo.” On a recent morning along the banks of Carroll Creek near Culler Lake, Chris Koogle of New Market was overseeing his children as they fished for rainbow trout. His most memorable brush with wildlife in the city has been with herons, he says, pointing to a large tree at the other end of the lake where no less than four of the large birds perched there, all looking his way.

“We had a heron swoop down and take a whole stringer of fish,” Koogle says. “He flew off and all those fish were hanging from his beak. I never did get the stringer back.”