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October 27, 2013

MARK BENNETT: Next chapter set to begin

Mayor seeks volunteers as Crow Patrol torch passes to new coordinators

TERRE HAUTE — Use the classic Tommy Tutone song to memorize the following number …

244-2709.

Forget the original “867-5309” chorus and the “Jenny, Jenny who can I turn to?” verse.

Change it to “244-2709” and “Terre Haute, how can I help you?”

The community needs help in the never-ending battle to scatter the annual invasion of crows. Since the 1990s, crows have wintered in Terre Haute by the tens of thousands — ranging from 30,000 in some years to 90,000 in others, according to various local counts.

The influx is among the largest in the nation. By next month, the 2013-14 crow population here will reach full scale. Left to their own devices, massive murders (the ironic name for flocks of the hefty black critters) of crows fill trees and large rooftops, cawing all night long, breaking branches on trees, breaking bread with each other (actually, their entree is typically littered fast-food leftovers), and defecating on sidewalks, windows, porches and cars. It isn’t pretty.

Strategic counter-measures lessen the costly, ugly mess they leave behind. The tactics require people to carry them out. The City of Terre Haute needs volunteers to serve on the Crow Patrol, for one day, a few or several, beginning Monday.

Volunteers will gather in the City Hall parking lot, receive a training session from one of the city’s patrol coordinators, travel to key locations in town, and fire pyrotechnics to scare crows and disburse them away from their favorite hangouts. The outings will last an hour to 90 minutes, Mayor Duke Bennett explained Friday.

To volunteer, dial the city’s official Crow Hotline at 244-2709 or 244-CROW. (The area code is 812.)

Some may doubt their own ability to handle a shift, or try to call but lose their nerve.

They can draw inspiration from Joy Sacopulos and a handful of fellow civic-minded volunteers who led the Crow Patrol through the past three winters. Now 74 years old, Sacopulos and Mary Harris — the volunteer duo who went out two, three or four evenings a week from October to March the past three winters — have decided to step down. They led fundraising efforts, getting donations from various business and civic contributors for pyrotechnic supplies, repairs and professional assistance from a local wildlife control firm led by Matt and Bridget Christie, organized the daily Crow Patrol shifts, and personally served dozens and dozens of those shifts. The Terre Haute Crow Committee became a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization three winters ago.

But the Christies have since moved elsewhere, Sacopulos said, and she and Harris felt they could no longer manage the process. The women welcomed an offer by the mayor to have the city coordinate the Crow Patrol. “I admire him for it,” she said. So, the torch will pass from the all-volunteer crew to a municipally steered team.

“I hope that they’ll start right away, so [the crows] will remember that they can’t stay the night in downtown Terre Haute, and that [the city] will be successful in whatever they choose to do,” Sacopulos said.

Bennett hopes to start this season’s Crow Patrol work Monday. The pyrotechnic launch pistols and equipment have been tested by the city and are ready, he said. He will appoint one or two coordinators to schedule and guide the daily crow-scattering missions. The city will fund the pyrotechnic replacement ammo and equipment repairs.

“We’re going to pick this up and go with this, because it’s an important thing,” Bennett said.

He rightly praised Sacopulos and Harris, backed by their committee. “They did a lot of work on behalf of the city as volunteers,” Bennett said, “and that was greatly appreciated.”

Leading that cause was an adventure, Sacopulos explained. Crows are among the planet’s smartest animals, and strategies had to evolve when the birds caught on to their human opponents’ plans. “They could tell who both of us were, in or out of our cars,” Sacopulos said of herself and Harris. Weather could turn cold and nasty. Volunteers sometimes didn’t show up. Residents who had tried to scare off crows themselves were usually grateful, while others complained about the pyrotechnics’ startling noise.

The patrollers’ perseverance is beyond admirable. The community benefits from such selfless, hard-working folks.

Why volunteer for such a task? “I think it just makes the community cleaner, nicer, fresher,” Sacopulos said, adding, “I think it’s a matter of community pride.”

The Crow Patrol can’t stop the birds from roosting here, but it can disperse them to less-populated rural settings around the city. Doing so prevents widespread, chronic crow-dropping onslaughts at the local hospitals, schools, Indiana State University, churches and businesses. That result makes the work worthwhile, she said. “I think we were successful, given what we’re dealing with.”

Now, it’s time for others to inherit those Crow Patrol vests.

Just call the number, “and we’ll plug you in,” the mayor said.

244-2709. Got it?

Mark Bennett can be reached at 812-231-4377 or mark.bennett@tribstar.com.

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