Urbana dedicates bridge to “special” goose

A crowd who call themselves “Friends of the Goose” gathered in Crystal Lake Park in Urbana on Saturday to honor a “special” goose who had lived at the park for 18 years and recently died. The “friends” honored the goose with a plaque and dedicated the bridge to him, calling it the Chinese Goose Bridge.

“He had a personality that it’s just hard to describe,” said Sherri Slade, an Urbana resident who cared for Goose throughout his life. “He was the patriarch of the park and was in command of the other geese.”

“He’d stop traffic to cross the street,” she added.

Goose or Mr. Goose , as the “friends” affectionately called him, could not fly south for the winter, Slade said.

With the lakes frozen over, Slade, who kept Goose alive all winter by feeding him, said she worried about his water source. She even tried to break the ice with a sledge hammer.

Goose survived, however, thanks to the very bridge that was dedicated to him.

The water currents under the bridge, kept the water from freezing and Goose would spend his winters down there.

“That’s why it’s so fitting for this bridge to be named after him,” Slade added.

Goose was not like the other geese. He was a Chinese Goose with bright orange feet. Instead of the slender black neck found on Canadian geese, Goose had a white neck with one long brown stripe that ran to the tip of his beak.

He had to have been a pet, Slade said.

The Park District found a crate in Crystal Lake Park shortly after Goose arrived and assumed that was what he came out of.

Besides the aesthetic differences, Goose had a personality comparable to a human.

Slade, who lived across the street, cared for him until his death.

“He knew where I lived and he knew when I was coming,” she said. “He’d just stand there and I’d stroke him like a dog.”

Slade was not the only one that took to Goose’s personality. People from the surrounding towns also came to visit Goose.

Susan Henry, a citizen of Tuscola, would travel 30 miles just to see Goose.

“We just fell in love with him,” she said.

According to Slade, Goose was the ‘personality of the park’.

“He was definitely a great communicator and he was a wonderful family man,” Slade said.

Goose had one mate he was to loyal to, a Canadian goose the “friends” named Patience. He raised a family of Chinese, Canadian mixed geese with her.

In the winter, when Patience and the children would fly South, Goose would become depressed, Henry said.

“When she finally came back, he’d just be honking and telling us ‘she’s back’,” Henry said. “One year she even came back on Valentine’s Day.”

Goose inspired so many people that two weeks after his death, they banded together to get a plaque made to honor him.

There was no public fundraiser, the money for the plaque was raised through individual, genuine donations, said Anna Hochhalter, Public Arts Coordinator.

“Its a citizen initiative,” Hochhalter said. “The city council has been in support of this initiative.”

“It was a real community effort,” she added.

The Chinese Goose Bridge dedication fits in with Urbana’s efforts to honor the natural world.

“We recognize that nature is an important part of people’s lives here,” said Laura Prussing, Mayor of Urbana. “I think it’s great. People from Urbana and miles around are appreciating our beautiful parks.”

To further honor Goose, “Friends of the Goose” is assembling pictures and favorite stories to form a book.

“He brought people from all walks of life, ages and ethnicities together,” Slade said. “Mr. Goose may be gone, but his memory will be with us for many years to come.”