Rats are running through Miller Park day and night and have become so bold that they're not afraid of people, says a frequent park visitor.
Upon a chance encounter, it's not the rodents that receive a fright, said Anthony Wayne, 67.
"The rats don't jump, the people do," said Wayne.
He is among several homeless people and others concerned about rats roaming through the downtown park at the corner of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Market Street.
Even more disturbing are the hawks that the rats attract, Wayne said.
The hawks come to eat the rats, but they don't eat the whole animal, he said. The hawk will take a rat up into a tree and later drop the carcass, sometimes right in front of people.
Rats are a problem off and on, but the problem seems worse these days, say Wayne and others who frequent the park.
The city's public works administrator, Lee Norris, said the city exterminates with rat bait once a month in Miller Park and that the problem today is no worse than usual.
Sit in Miller Park 10 minutes and you're going to see a rat, Wayne said.
Ash Lee Henderson said she can testify. She saw rats in the park during the two-day Hands Off Syria protest in September. They came out from behind benches and garbage cans as speakers gave presentations.
"There were totally big city rats in the park," she said. "I saw it with my own eyes."
Norris said the rats continue to come because of people bringing food.
Homeless people bring food and sleep there. On Sundays churches bring food, and on Fridays in the summer, more than 2,000 people gathered for food and music at Miller Plaza and Miller Park during Nightfall.
"I don't want rats in my parks," said Norris.
He said seeing some rodents in downtown Chattanooga is normal. He said he's had no complaints concerning rats this month. However, some employees have mentioned seeing them at Miller Park.
The park sees heavy foot traffic on weekdays. It sits in the midst of eateries and coffeeshops popular with downtown workers and across the street from the federal courthouse and EPB's main office.
Bonnie Deakins, the Hamilton County Health Department's director of environmental health, said Miller Park is a resting place for transients and people waiting on the bus, and it's the perfect place for rats. It has the waterfall as a water source and garbage cans for food, she said.
Rats "wouldn't come to the park if they couldn't find something to eat," said Deakins. "The food source has got to be taken away."
One way to control rodents is through the garbage. Left out overnight, it provides food, but if the trash is removed daily, so is their food supply, she said.
Because rats are skittish, they usually don't bite people unless someone unknowingly sticks his hands in dirt that happens to be a rat hole. If bitten, people should seek medical attention because rats carry disease and viruses, she said.
"They are filthy animals," said Deakins. "They live in sewers and the worst places you can think of."
Brenda Martin sits in the park daily. She said the city should assign more people to cleaning the park and getting rid of rats.
"I get up off the bench because they are like this," she said, her hands spread about 8 inches apart.
The bench sits near a concrete wall that provides a boundary for dirt and bushes. The rats come out of the dirt and go from the bushes to the trash can, Martin said.
"They don't discriminate," said Frank Bartley, also a regular park visitor. "They run out in the day and night."
Contact staff writer Yolanda Putman at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6431.