If You Fill It, They Will Come
Along the rural stretch of dirt road where I live there are at least eleven ponds, one of which is mine. Most of these ponds are man-made and a few are the result of industrious beavers that have since left the area. Many are stream or spring fed. But our pond is a bit more unique. It is one of the few successful, life-sustaining ponds fed totally by rainfall run-off.
Ponds are constructed for a variety of reasons: water for livestock and wildlife, fire protection, recreation, and reclamation of land that lies wet. Regardless of the reason for construction, there is always apprehension during the excavating phase, especially when there is a lack of fresh flowing water. Will it evolve into a pond or simply be a hole filled with water?
Construction of our pond was the first major project we undertook after purchasing the property. Looking back, it was a bit of a naïve leap of faith. Pond construction can be a tricky proposition. Too deep and you run the risk of breaking through the clay layer that will help to retain the water. Too shallow and it won’t support fish and other aquatic life.
We worked with various county agencies to survey the location for the pond. They designed the diversion channel that would collect and divert the rainwater into the pond and the opposing spillway that would carry the overflow into the woods. They offered recommendations for depth and provided other contact information to help move us in the right direction.
I still remember our anticipation of the first rainfall after the excavating was complete. Would it hold water and be the recreational pond we had hoped for, or had we created a big muddy hole? Slowly, over many months and numerous rainfalls, the pond filled. We watched as the level remained constant with slight fluctuations during times of drought or excess rainfall. We fretted over how muddy it was and then rejoiced as the water cleared and grass began to grow in the diversion channel, helping to reduce the amount of sediment washing into the pond.
Confident that we had a viable pond, we paid a visit to Zetts Fish Farm & Hatchery in Drifting, Pennsylvania, to purchase what I have always referred to as the pond “starter kit.” They were very helpful and provided recommendations for the types and quantities of aquatic life for our pond. We came home with boxes of snails and tadpoles, crayfish, and clams. The most successful fish in our pond have been bluegills and bullheads.
Cattails self-seeded near the spillway, providing natural filtration as well as cover for red-winged blackbirds that return each spring to nest in the tall reeds. The pond and surrounding area are noisy in the spring with the sound of the peepers and in early summer with the croaking of the frogs. Pairs of Canada geese, and on occasion mallard ducks, visit the pond, but we don’t encourage them to stay.
Over the years we have constructed a small dock, added a rowboat, and erected a pavilion at the edge of the pond. It has brought us more joy than we could have ever imagined. All of our grandchildren and many of our nieces and nephews caught their first fish in this pond and learned how to row a boat. The frog population has been a constant source of entertainment for the children. They will spend hours walking along the edge with little nets catching tadpoles, tiny fish, and large bullfrogs. After proudly displaying their catch, they carefully place them back in the pond and watch as they disappear back into the cover of the water. We have taught them to build rafts by lashing logs together and cheered as they used long poles to navigate on the rafts from one side of the pond to the other.
Our pond is the focal point for so many family activities. A quiet, private recreational mecca where, surrounded by trees and fields of wildflowers, we can block out the outside world and enjoy a variety of activities with the children. It has far exceeded our expectations when we took that naïve leap of faith to construct a hole that filled with water and turned into a vibrant pond.