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A Nature Journal

Experience the natural world with east central Illinois master naturalists
Preservation Pond

Preservation Pond

Posted by Maddy Kangas -

There's a miniature prairie nearby, a gem of green space under an open sky in a neighborhood shadowed by mature trees. It is rich in native plantings, and is attracting quite a variety of wildlife. Casual visitors are surprised to learn it is not a park, but a retention pond built by the City of Champaign as part of its flood abatement program.

West Washington Street had been prone to flooding for years. The newspaper once printed a photograph of an intrepid inhabitant paddling down the street in his canoe after a heavy rainfall. After years of study, planning, and with neighborhood input, the city created Preservation Pond. Its primary purpose is to catch and hold rainwater, to help the streets drain without pushing the problem downstream into other communities. But it is also a public space, an asset to the neighborhood.

Structurally completed and opened two years ago, Preservation Pond sits on a two acre site. The basin is dug below the water table, so water remains even in dry spells. The pond is aerated from spring through the fall, to prevent stagnation and mosquitoes. The slopes are steep, discouraging geese from establishing nests, while allowing a small mallard population to stay all year. A wide sidewalk surrounds the upper banks, making this green space completely accessible to people of all abilities. To cap it off, a little gazebo with a table and chairs sits near the entrance, inviting visitors within.

The true delight of the pond is in its native plantings. The slopes of the basin are chock full of native plants not normally found within city limits. There's both swamp and butterfly milkweed, dock and compass plants, coneflowers and blue flag iris. Arrowhead adorns the water's edge. This fall we've been treated to a sea of goldenrods, coreopsis, rudbeckia and asters.

The flowers have drawn in pollinators and wildlife large and small. Visitors sometimes catch a glimpse of a great blue heron, a green heron, and other migratory birds. Frogs peep at the water's edge. Dragonflies put on a fine show of aerial acrobatics. Prairie butterflies abound. A migratory population of variegated fritillary butterflies established themselves there this August.


For me, the best result of Preservation Pond is its effect on the neighborhood. People are flocking to the green space. Neighbors bring their children, walk their dogs, and even stroll with a sweetheart to enjoy this small spectacle of nature. It's a delight to watch a first encounter between a small child and a grasshopper. Friends ask each other if they've seen the heron, heard the frogs, or inhaled the perfumed air. People are getting out more, interacting with each other more, and smiling more. The city has brought nature back within its borders, reducing floods, creating green space and providing for native pollinators in a single stroke of genius.

The city planners have hopes of creating at least two more retention ponds in neighborhoods plagued by intermittent flooding. By all accounts the future green spaces will be grander than ours. Until then feel free to explore Preservation Pond, on Washington Street just west of Russell. Don't forget to bring a camera—who knows what surprises may await you!


Teresa DeWitt (2012)

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