One of the first things I noticed when I moved to Greene County was just how pretty and rural it is. The county has rolling hills that are beautiful all year long. In the spring and summer, they are lush with green grass, dappled with cattle, sheep or horses and their respective offspring. Those same hills are spectacular in the fall as the trees outlining those hills are painted in green, red, orange and yellow colors. They hold those colors for as long as possible until Old Man Winter arrives, leaving a wake of snow in his path, layered across those lovely hills. When I first moved here in the spring of 2016, I thought those hills looked like they would be fun to sled ride down. It would have been a fast ride down and a tiring walk back up! Two or three rides down and I’d be ready to call it a day! The scenes that I depicted were the perfect opportunity for famed television painter Bob Ross to put on canvas.
The second thing that I noticed was just how many ponds are scattered around the countryside. Many ponds are nestled in the valleys of those hills and just as many are in open fields. It depends on where your water source is located. If you were curious as to how many ponds there are in the state of Pennsylvania, no one has a clue. A satellite view of our state would show several thousand per county. That could easily turn into around 134,000 ponds in the state of Pennsylvania, with the majority in the northeastern side of the state. There was still glacial activity here as little as 13,000 years ago, leaving approximately 50 glacial lakes in Pennsylvania. With such a rich water supply above and below ground, many of the earlier settlers strategically homesteaded near a water source for two reasons: fire protection and agricultural purposes.
Then, the pond evolved into a type of fad. It became cool to have a pond for pleasure. My family had a pond when I was growing up. And yes, I went swimming in it! We had a small pier that I could take a flying leap off, if I so desired, cannonball style. My dad had it stocked with a variety of fish, usually panfish like bluegill, sunfish and catfish. My best friend’s family had a pond, too. We would swim in that every chance we could during the hot summer months. That was the norm.
Fast-forward about 15 years and that pond has now evolved into a cute little man-made fish pond, right smack dab in my front yard, as close to the house as I can get it. It’s small enough that I can put a cute little foot bridge over it so I can stand there and look down at the beautiful Koi swimming underneath. It attracts bullfrogs and spring peepers. I have water lilies and have even planted some cat tails that attract red-winged blackbirds. It’s a beautiful little pond.
I have been studying ponds and I decided to go to the local Greene County Conservation District Office to see if they had any data on just how many ponds there are in Greene County. I was surprised to find out that they don’t keep track of those figures – I guess nobody really ever asked before. The size of the pond determines if you will need a permit to build it. My little Koi pond didn’t require a permit. The larger ponds do, and you can apply for a permit at the County Conservation District (CCD) office. I also found out that one of the first contacts you should make is to the local Natural Resources Conservation Services, or NRCS. This is a federal agency that will be able to explain some of the regulations and provide you with important information about soil types. They can help you plan the construction of your pond. Funny, I never thought of a pond as something you should take the time to plan for and build – but it is.
I recently found out that approximately 57 percent of people who build ponds are doing so because it looks nice! That is now the No. 1 reason for building a pond – that was my reason for building the Koi pond. The second reason is that many people (57 percent) like to fish. I am not much of a fisherwoman, but that is on my bucket list, for sure. The other reasons are as follows: 39 percent build a pond to attract wildlife, 27 percent build a pond to provide a habitat, 20 percent build a pond so they can swim in it, 10 percent build a pond to provide drinking water for their farm animals, 10 percent use it to irrigate their property and 3 percent build a pond for other reasons.
The interesting fact about most ponds is that they are predominantly used in the spring and summer months. This is the time of year when the pond habitat comes out of the dormant state and comes to life. Plants and animals alike are moving through their cycle of life. The overall health of the pond habitat depends on the overall health of its inhabitants. This is the time of year when the phones light up with questions concerning pond management. Questions range from the quality of the aquatic plants, fish kills, wildlife habitats, creating emerging vegetation and overall questions concerning the health of the pond.
I want you to know that after I delved into the topic of ponds, their reasons for being, their origins and their usage I have come to realize that there is so much more to the life cycle of a pond than I could ever cover in one article. This study into pond management is a science, one that I have a newfound respect for.
So, let’s wrap this up with a few pointers:
1. If you want to construct a pond, contact Natural Resources Conservation Services – they can provide free publications on proper pond construction.
2. The United States Army Corps of Engineers is responsible for permits according to the Clean Water Act, Section 404.
3. Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection is the state agency responsible for water quality and quantity regulations.
4. Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is responsible for common management practices on existing ponds regarding plant and fish control requiring chemical management.
5. If you ignore the regulations or fail to comply, you may be fined or jailed.
Contact information for these agencies can be found in the government pages of your phone book, or stop by your local County Conservation District (CCD) Office.
Many thanks to the Webinars on Ponds by Bryan Swistock, Senior Extension Associate; Water Resources Coordinator with Penn State Extension.