Just inside the Farnsworth Rd entrance into Fort Williams Park is the only body of fresh water within the Park. Known locally as the Skating Pond, its current size and form is the result of Depression-era efforts by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who greatly reduced its size and formalized its embankments. Once known as “Lily Pad Pond”, this quiet, less frequented area of the Park offers a calm, intimate refuge from the popular, wide-open fields and rugged coastline to the east.
Fed by an underground spring at the east end, the pond also collects stormwater runoff from surrounding Parkland, out-flowing through a storm drain that leads under Shore Road into a protected wetland to the west. Water quality has been an ongoing problem since the pond surface is stagnant and in full sunlight, and the water is nutrient-rich from runoff, which has created poor oxygen levels and a sporadic buildup of algae and duckweed. To address this problem, the Town recently installed a small fountain to aerate the pond’s water, and the adjacent Children’s Garden project will include a biofilter water feature to both filter and aerate the Pond as well.
Rounded-rectangular in shape, the pond is contained by a stone retaining wall with coping that merges with a naturally-occurring outcrop of ledge at its northwest embankment. There are remnants of formal stonework above the east, west and south sides of the pond that need repairing or reconstructing, including low stone retaining edges, steps and pillars.
An interesting variety of mature trees surrounds the pond, such as Norway spruce, Austrian pine, red and sugar maples, northern white cedar, red oak, white ash, and black willow. While most of these trees are in good health, Asiatic bittersweet has decimated one of the two norther white cedars, and a small population of purple loosestrife is making inroads into marginal plants growing near the rock outcrop.
Although there is some concern over the spread of native cattails along the north shore of the pond, they do provide several ecological benefits, including filtering runoff, reducing nutrients and providing nesting habitat for many species of birds and wildlife. Cattails will be periodically hand-weeded to control their spread and water lilies will be encouraged to spread and shade more of the pond’s surface, cooling the water and helping prevent algae buildup.
The current juxtaposition between formal and natural landscape elements provides some inspiration for how to develop this site. While stonework above the east, south and west sides of the pond will be repaired, the coping along the north embankment could be removed to allow for a beautiful, natural shoreline of marginal plantings that would serve as a buffer to absorb excess nutrients. This more gradual grade, densely vegetated, would also provide a safer approach from the adjacent Children’s Garden woodland.
- Lily Pad Pond (1935): Built by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the pond’s stone edge retaining walls with coping still remain.
- Stone Retaining Walls, Steps, and Pillar (1935): Also built by the CCC, the southern and western lawn areas are sloped and contain remnants of a shallow stone retaining wall, steps and pillar.
- Formal Garden Stonework (1935): Built by the CCC, this formal garden was arranged on axis between the pond’s northeastern embankment and the tennis courts, with a shallow set of stone steps flanked by a pair of stone pillars and two northern white cedar trees (Thuja occidentalis)
Please visit the Park History page for more information about Fort Williams’ military past.
Featured Problematic Plant: purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
A tall, upright perennial with many-branched woody stems and long narrow spikes of magenta-colored flowers, purple loosestrife was introduced to the US from Europe in the 19th century. Once highly valued as an ornamental garden plant, it quickly escaped into ditches and wetlands where it has reproduced prolifically through wind and waterborne seed dispersal and an extensive root system. A single mature plant can produce a million seeds, most of which are viable.
Purple loosestrife forms dense, impenetrable thickets that overwhelm native wetland plant species, forming monocultures that are less suitable for cover, food and nesting sites for wetland birds and animals.
Featured Beneficial Plant: black willow (Salix nigra)
Native in moist to wet soils along bodies of fresh water in central and eastern North America, black willow is a stout, multi-trunk tree with an irregular open crown, long narrow leaves, and yellow-green catkins in spring. Trunks often extend at angles out over the water and produce many vertical shoots, as is the case with the willow growing near the rock outcrop along the north shore of the skating pond.
Although too short-lived and messy to use in most residential gardens, black willows have many ecological benefits. Their dense, fibrous root systems are excellent for stabilizing the banks of ponds and streams, and spring catkins provide nectar and pollen for honey bees. Willows are host plants to Red-spotted Purple and Viceroy Butterflies, and many animals eat their leaves and twigs.