Improvements to historic pond on Auburn’s campus will benefit community

Published: August 20, 2015
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A pond created on the Auburn University campus nearly 80 years ago as a teaching tool will receive repairs and improvements beginning this fall through an agreement between the Edward Via College of Osteopathic Medicine, or VCOM, and Auburn University. The pond is located behind VCOM's new campus off South Donahue Drive.

The project will include repair of the pond's dam and installation of a path and two boardwalks that will be accessible to Auburn University and VCOM faculty and students, as well as the Auburn community. As part of the agreement, VCOM is paying for the initial repairs and path installation and will also cover future maintenance of the area.

"This project is our way of giving back to Auburn University and the local community while also providing a relaxing, natural environment near the VCOM campus for our students to enjoy between classes," said Bill Price, VCOM vice president of operations. "We have similar settings near our other campuses and have found our students enjoy access to these natural areas."

At its April meeting, the Auburn University Board of Trustees granted a Construction and Recreational Easement to VCOM to construct, use and maintain improvements to the pond.

Located in a Natural Resource Management area, the historic, two-acre pond was constructed in 1937 and was the second one built by Auburn University fishery scientist Homer Swingle to study fish-pond management. The effort led to Auburn being recognized as the home of modern pond management techniques. Today, it is used by Auburn University faculty and students for forestry and biology research, general observation of nature and as a field teaching lab.

An important aspect of the project is ensuring university researchers and students will be able to utilize the area as a natural resource after the project is complete, said Auburn University Campus Planner Ben Burmester.

"Since the land is protected and is such an important teaching and research tool, we held multiple stakeholder meetings with campus units that have an interest in the pond and surrounding area," he said. "Working with these units and VCOM, we have created a repair and improvement plan that ensures the area's natural setting and ecological functions are maintained while also providing an area for Auburn University, VCOM and the community to enjoy."

The first step for the project is to repair the pond's deteriorating dam, Burmester said.

"The outlet structure is undersized and cannot handle excess water flow causing the pond to overtop the spillway and dam after heavy rains," he said. "The dam is showing signs of deterioration and water seepage."

Plans call for the pond to be drained to replace the outlet structure and repair the dam. This work will enhance habitat for local wildlife, said Craig Guyer, professor of biology in Auburn University's College of Sciences and Mathematics who studies the pond's diverse turtle population.

"Turtles will react, but will not be harmed," he said. "They are good at digging into the mud and waiting for the pond to refill. As for the turtles that do leave, they may relocate to neighboring wetlands, but I expect them to return once the pond refills. It is a great pond."

Additionally, the School of Fisheries, Aquaculture and Aquatic Sciences has attempted to remove some of the fish prior to the project and plans to be on hand to collect fish while the pond is being drained.

Once the dam is rebuilt, crews will begin work on a path and two boardwalks that will connect to the sidewalk along the new Woodfield Drive extension.

"The vision of this path design is to create a naturalistic trail with limited grading," Burmester said.

The design calls for the path to be constructed using porous asphalt.

"The characteristics of porous asphalt make it an excellent choice for this project," said Michael Heitzman, assistant director and senior researcher at Auburn University's National Center for Asphalt Technology. "Rainwater drains down through this pavement instead of running off to the side, or ponding in low lying areas. This is important for the pond area because this type of drainage will help control storm water and filter out contaminants before they wash into the surrounding environment."