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Community saddened by vandalism at Hamilton duck pond

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HAMILTON, Mont. - The Ravalli County Sheriff's Office is investigating another act of vandalism in the Bitterroot.

Earlier this week NBC Montana told you about vandals that hit the Corvallis United Methodist Church. The other incident was at a popular duck pond near Hamilton.

Ravalli County Sheriff Steve Holton said it is unlikely the two incidents are related.

The vandalism at Rudy Kratofil's duck pond off Golf Course Road is frustrating for its owner and also for scores of people who enjoy visiting the pond.

NBC Montana spent time at the pond on a cold, snowy day. But the waterfowl didn't seem to mind the weather at all. They were busy swimming and greedily eating the grain that Kratofil fed them.

For many locals seeing the ducks and geese that are both domestic and wild is a joyous event.

But the graffiti painted on the grain storage shed Kratofil woke up to one morning several days ago wasn't so joyous.

"What do they get out of it?" asked Kratofil, as he pointed to the red lettering scrawled across his shed. "I don't get it. They must be frustrated about something, but why do they have to destroy property?"

Kratofil has had other incidents of vandalism before. He hates when people throw rocks at his ducks.

He will paint over the graffiti when it gets warm. But for now he said it's awful to look at.

Kratofil built the pond for his son when he was a child 40 years ago. Its popularity with ducks was immediate.

"It was word of mouth," said Kratofil. "And they told other ducks."

For generations the waterfowl has been welcome, and so has the public. Kratofil likes to watch people come to the pond from his house.

"I see all these people come in, and little kids, and this has been going on for years. Sometimes it's standing-room only on the dock."

He also stocks the pond with rainbow trout.

He raises his own grain and bags it so the public can feed the waterfowl. Kratofil feeds the birds twice a day.

Preschool teacher Nita Reeves was upset when she heard about the vandalism. She has been taking her kids on field trips to Rudy's duck pond for 25 years..

NBC Montana visited Reeves' class at the Grace Lutheran Learning Center in Hamilton. All the kids in her class remember their last field trip to the pond, and had stories to tell of that day.

Young Teague Searle spoke up to talk about many trips that he's taken to Kratofil's. He described feeding the ducks.

"The other ducks try to get their share," he said, "and they fly away and they use their wings to swim faster in the water."

It's memories like that which bring people back to the pond year after year.

Kratofil can't count the number of kids who have fed his waterfowl through the years.

"Some of the kids that came here years ago are now married," he said, "and have families of their own and come back to visit."

Today, the son that Kratofil built the pond for is married and, with his wife, helps maintain the site with his dad.

Kratofil said it's a family operation the Kratofils hope to continue for generations to come.

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