Gerald Almy: Ponder a pond for your property

If you’re a hunter or angler and live on at least a few acres of land, you’ve probably had the fantasy: why not build a pond? You could hunt ducks and geese on it in fall, and the pond would serve double-duty and provide a private fishing lake that you can fish and manage as you please.

These were the attractions that led me to build three ponds over the years on my property west of Maurertown in Shenandoah County. It’s impossible to put into words how much joy and pleasure these ponds have brought me and my family in terms of recreation, aesthetics and wildlife viewing. Having a pond to both hunt and watch waterfowl raise young on is a balm for the soul. And for the more practical-minded: ponds also substantially increase the value of a property.

While visions of hunting ducks and geese filled my mind when I started planning my first ponds, actually watching male geese guard their mates and mother ducks diligently protect their young has perhaps been even more gratifying than the hunting. Wood ducks, mallards, and Canada geese raise young on the ponds every year. Watching deer, turkeys, bears, rabbits, mink, beaver and other wildlife is also a tremendous reward of ponds.

Pond construction costs vary widely depending on the topography, soil, and size pond you plan to build. Typically $1,000-8,000 will get you a half-acre to 3 acre pond. Any size in that range is ample to attract ducks and geese and hold fish.

Before building the pond, do as much research as possible. Talk to neighbors who have built ponds nearby and research the project in libraries and the Internet. Also, contact the local Natural Resources Conservation Service representative. That person can provide valuable information on soil types, potential problems, and how to construct the pond, saving you lots of money and potential missteps. Their services are free. They will also tell you what permits you might need and offer advice during construction.

Ideally, you want to build where the earth is mostly clay below the topsoil level. If it’s sandy, shale or limestone, you may need a pond liner or have to mix in bentonite to seal the bottom. Clay is best because it forms an impervious bottom and swells up when wet, helping seal any potential leaks.

Where to locate the pond is a major decision that the conservation service will help you with. The ideal spot is where the contour of the land dips toward a natural site, perhaps with several side hills sloping down into a low area. A flat area in a small valley is also good, or a low spot that’s fed by springs or streams that flow after rains.

You can dam up a small all-weather creek, but be sure you find out how much water comes down after heavy rains. It may be too much and could flood your pond, causing damage to the dam. In this case you can construct the pond off to one side of the stream and have a channel leading to it from the stream with a gate that can be opened and shut to control the amount of water that enters the pond. This results in greater stability and allows you to manipulate the water level if you want to plant aquatic plants in shallow areas to attract waterfowl.

You may need an engineer to help lay out your pond. But a contractor with experience building ponds may be able to plan and construct the project himself.

One final thought. If you want to watch geese and ducks raise their young, be sure to design a small island in the middle or shallow end of the pond. This provides the waterfowl with an area largely protected from predators. And if you’re after woodies, build near trees. For geese, the more open the surroundings the better.

After the pond is built and begins filling with rainwater or runoff, start thinking about your fish-stocking plans and consulting with the local fishery biologist. Then start ordering a variety of wildlife seeds that will stabilize the soil around the pond and be attractive to ducks, geese and other wildlife.

Now sit back and enjoy watching your own private hunting and fishing spot fill up and start drawing in wildlife. When I built my first pond, a pair of geese flew in within hours after the dozer shut down to investigate their new potential home.

I hope your luck is as good as mine. I know one thing. You won’t ever regret a penny spent on building a pond.

Award-winning outdoors writer Gerald Almy is a Maurertown resident.