Although swimming in the Duck Pond is one of several “unofficial graduation requirements” presented to incoming freshmen during Customs Week, students are cautioned to stay away. A broken aerator, a new rebar, a long overdue dredging, and increased numbers of snapping turtles and aggressive geese mean that a dip in the Duck Pond is more dangerous than usual.
“I would say that every year we discourage folks from going into the duck pond, as it is dangerous and gross,” said Lilly Lavner, the Director of Student Activities. “This year, it was made clear that the Duck Pond is even more dangerous and gross than usual.”
Director of Campus Safety Tom King echoed these concerns.
“Students were never allowed to swim in the pond (at least for the 14 years I’ve been here) out of an abundance of caution,” he commented.
Lavner attributed this to the damaged aerator and a new rebar for the pond. The pond also has not been dredged in nearly 20 years, according to Arboretum Director Bill Astifan. The high cost and numerous regulatory requirements mean that the pond won’t be dredged until the summer of 2016.
Astifan noted that there were several “temporary and permanent hazards” within the pond that made him advise the Student Activities Office against swimming. The most serious concern are the pond’s snapping turtles, whose population has increased in recent years. The large population of Canadian geese also poses problems to would-be swimmers. Astifan stated that during the maternal season, geese become excessively protective of their offspring and aggressive towards others.
“They will come after you,” he warned, noting that he had even seen the belligerent birds chase and attempt to bite cars on College Lane.
In order to deter flocks of geese from entering the pond, a new rebar (a fence-like barrier) was installed on the pond’s edge. The geese prefer to walk into the pond from the shoreline, which is prevented by the rebar. Astifan said this would help with cultivating a habitat for ducks on the shoreline. In line with the Pond’s namesake, the College prefers ducks to inhabit the waters over geese.
However, the rebar is also a source of concern because of its metal poles. Lavner and Astifan both see this as a source of concern, as there is a risk of a swimmer slipping and falling onto the rebar. To protect maintenance workers, covers will be installed to cover the edges of the metal.
Along with the rebar, the pond‘s rip-rap can also be a risk to those who brave the Duck Pond’s waters. The rip-rap is a series of sharp stones around the pond’s edge that were put in place 14 years ago when the pond was lowered. Swimmers entering the pond risk injuring themselves on the sharp surface of the stones.
While the joke around campus for the first few weeks of the semester was that the pond constituted a “biohazard,” according to Facilities, this is a gross misconception. The pond’s water quality is not excessively dangerous, although there are some concerns. Geese excrement tends to dirty the pond, while other natural organisms and bacteria are also prevalent.
Actions are being taken by Astifan and the Facilities Management Staff to improve the pond’s water quality. A meadow adjacent to the pond is being created, which will act as a “biofilter” for the water runoff that goes into the pond. In addition, Astifan is preparing plans to drain and dredge the pond in 2016.
The dredging process will involve draining all the water and temporarily removing the fish and wildlife that inhabit the pond. Some other unwanted guests will be evicted, including the koi fish that locals have illegally dumped in the water throughout the years. Large amounts of silt and sediment will be carted off campus. The last time the pond was dredged, the removed material was used to elevate the Featherbed athletic fields.