A herd of deer in North Canton is attracting visitors but officials are asking people to stop feeding the animals.

NORTH CANTON  They emerge around dusk, ears perked, drawn to the sounds of car doors closing and rustling plastic bags of corn, feed and unwanted produce.

A fenced-in field on N. Main Street, between Kmart and Stratavon Drive NW, has become an unofficial tourist attraction. A growing herd of deer is making their home in the lot, encouraged by the steady meals provided by curious, and well-meaning, visitors.

Around 8 p.m. on a balmy Wednesday last week, at least six groups of people stopped to see the wildlife.

"It’s crazy this year how they’re so tame. They just come up to you," said Tom Fausnight. 

He and his wife, Barb, have been visiting the deer since last year. Last week, they brought along their 2-year-old grandson Clay Young.

The deer — ranging from large bucks to fawns just losing their spots — won't eat out of visitors hands but will come up to the fence to grab food.

"Where else can you see deer like this?" Tom Fausnight said.

"I tell everyone about this. It's a nice opportunity," Barb Fausnight added.

Concerns

It's not clear how many deer live in the field or how long they've been there. They share the field with cats, ducks and other animals.

Gary Haren, who lives nearby and visits every day, said he's seen at least 25 or 30 deer.

"Everybody really enjoys them... They’re not tame, but they’re used to people feeding them," he said, adding that he is worried that the population is growing too large.

According to Stark County Auditor records, the vacant commercial property is owned by the Kmart Corp. and spans 14.65 acres. An additional 5.58 acres of brush is directly behind it. That property is zoned residential and owned by a Hudson man.

The North Canton Kmart store manager declined to comment for this story.

The lot is fenced in but the deer are not trapped and can venture outside of the property. That misconception may have driven visitors to begin feeding the animals.

"People thought they were locked in there and would starve and die last winter. Of course, they aren’t trapped in there," said City Administrator Mike Grimes.

The city has received calls and has looked into the situation.

"It's being treated like a petting zoo by some folks," Grimes said. "I’m concerned about that."

City officials are worried that a deer could hop the fence into N. Main Street. And they're concerned that more deer, attracted by easy food, could move in.

North Canton is dealing with a growing deer population and officials have fielded complaints elsewhere in the city about them tearing up gardens or running into the street. 

The city is exploring its options and working to determine if its deer population is getting out of hand, Grimes said.

Don't feed the animals

On Wednesday, visitors tossed carrots, apples and watermelon over the fence. Corn cobs litter the field. Seeds or some type of feed are scattered in the grass.

The Stark County Health Department has a problem with those leftovers. Other animals — such as mice, rats or raccoons — are attracted to the extra food.

“Our concern is that you’re feeding more than just the deer. That you’re feeding rodents or animals that are a known disease carrier,” said Paul DePasquale, director of environmental health.

"The possibility exists that once you bring them into the area, they could bite somebody or scratch somebody," he added.

Raccoons tested positive for rabies in Paris Township earlier this year. 

Rodents also can be an issue for nearby businesses, including Kmart, that carry food products.

The health department posted 'no dumping' signs on the fences, trying to discourage feeding, but someone took those signs down, DePasquale said.

Flies, another disease carrier, can also become an issue if food is left to rot. And deer are known to carry ticks.

"They’re wild deer and that’s what they are -- wild,” DePasquale said.

Officials with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources also discourage feeding or getting too close to wild animals.

"There's a lot of concerns there," said Scott Angelo, wildlife officer supervisor with ODNR's division of wildlife.

For multiple reasons, no one should be feeding the deer, he said.

"Although it's neat to see, and I understand why people are doing it, there's a lot of reasons why we would not do that," Angelo said.

Growing problem

The food is attracting more deer to the area creating a larger population, through migration and mating, than nature intended.

"That area is not going to be able to support those high numbers," Angelo said. 

"What will inadvertently happen, even though people are well meaning, is you'll have a population explosion," he said.

White tail deer have a diverse diet, but if hand fed, they could be eating food that isn't nutritionally sound. Deer aren't meant to eat just corn, Angelo said.

Hand feeding also could cause deer to become accustomed to humans. In late fall, bucks start rutting and become territorial. It's rare, but people have been harmed by deer, he said. 

ODNR won't take measures to relocate overpopulated deer. They manage wildlife through access and opportunity and use hunting as their first tool, Angelo said.

Hunting isn't allowed in North Canton. 

Ohio doesn't take a yearly count of deer populations but in 2011, ODNR estimated the statewide herd at 725,000.

Reach Jessica at 330-580-8322 or jessica.holbrook@cantonrep.com

On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.

On Twitter: @jholbrookREP.