Tuesday , July 28, 2015 - 4:54 PM
Chris Penne, left, and Madison Cushing lay out a carpet of native grasses along the shore of Steed Pond in Clearfield on Tuesday, July 28, 2015. The Utah Division of Wildlife Resources installed 144 square feet of the wetland sod along the banks of the poplar fishing pond.
Local officials are working to make sure Clearfield’s Steed Pond provides a slice of nature even as water levels drop.
Utah’s drought has taken a toll on community ponds, leaving mucky beaches and murky waters. While the fishing might lure visitors to the city-owned pond, the conditions don’t encourage them to linger.
The Utah Division of Wildlife has a simple solution. This week, they started installing sod mats to Steed Pond that are woven with wetland plants. The vegetated mats thrive on muddy banks, improve habitat for fish and create a more enjoyable experience for anglers.
“It enhances the aesthetics of the pond and makes them a little healthier,” said Chris Penne, aquatics biologist from the Ogden DWR office. “It separates areas and gives anglers a little more space instead of fishing shoulder to shoulder. It’s a more natural way to lay things out.”
Cities typically own the urban ponds and parks surrounding them, but DWR stocks them with fish. It’s a mutually beneficial partnership.
“Basically, our relationship with the cities is they provide a great park amenity for the citizens, and we, the Division of Wildlife, mange it from the water down,” Penne said. “That gives us a vehicle to sell licenses and get people into fishing close to home.”
Penne and his staff are trying to tackle one community fishing pond a year with similar vegetation projects. Last year they worked on the Clinton Pond. In the years to come, Penne would like to bring similar projects to urban fisheries in Farmington Syracuse as resources allow.
“If people can’t get out into nature, we want to bring it to them and make that experience the best it can be,” Penne said.
Utah DWR covers all the costs for the vegetation projects. At the Steed Pond, Penne said the wetland sod mats plus delivery cost right around $800 and took about half a day’s work to install. They contract with North Fork Natives in Rexburg, Idaho to custom grow the mats. They pack up and roll out just like turf sod used on lawns.
“So, just like turf sod, all we need to do with this stuff is get it in the right spot, roll it out and stake it down,” Penne said. “Then it will take care of the rest on its own.”
The vegetation mats also work better than the traditional method — planting seedlings directly in the ground — because hungry wild birds can’t pick at them. Once they get established, the plants will grow taller and spread just enough to create a sense of seclusion without blocking water access.
“We’ve built and constructed ponds with cities where people can fish shoulder-to-shoulder,” Penne said. “But I’d rather people, even though they’re fishing in the city, have an experience where they’re getting some solitude and are out in a natural area.”
The water-loving plants in the mats include natives like wooly sedge, beaked sedge and arctic rush. They don’t grow too high, but they do like “keeping their feet wet,” Penne said. By growing into the water, the plants help filter out nutrients and clear the water. They also hold the shoreline together and protect it from erosion.
Steed Pond is fed by local canals, which means it’s subject to evaporation between October and mid-April when water districts shut off the water. This year’s drought brought the beloved pond to some of its lowest levels.
Fish populations are doing well in the pond, despite dry conditions, but the new wetland vegetation will help draw even more wildlife to the area for the Clearfield community to enjoy.
“We’ll see ducks congregating around here and you’ll probably see frogs — kids commonly roam around here and catch those,” Penne said. “It just brings a little bit of the wild home.”