Constructing a better pond
Cheyenne - In May 2014, as Keith Culver and Paul Mavrakis strolled the nine holes of the Newcastle Country Club, the conversation turned from golf to fishing. They pondered the potential of a small lake on the north side of the course. There was a marshy area there the club couldn’t use. Water was likely available from the nearby oil refinery’s deep well. Contributions from businesses and organizations were possible. Extreme northeast Wyoming is fishing challenged, so more opportunity is always welcomed.
Mavrakis shot par that day — 36 strokes. But Culver argued the fisheries supervisor for northeast Wyoming shot below par, even scoring “an ace” with other partners in the round of water development that spun off from their game of golf.
A rock-lined 1.6 acres of water called Black Elk Pond now lies just east of the No. 5 tee box. Anglers are catching largemouth bass, yellow perch, channel catfish, crappies and bluegills. In addition to fishing, folks are relaxing on the pier that is now accessible to those with mobility impairments.
A young girl sits on the railing by the pond with a spin fishing rod.Wetlands, with all the associated wildlife benefits, are forming as a result of the pond’s discharge. The top foot of water in the pond can be used to irrigate the course. The golf course may even tap some new water from Little Oil Creek for a dual water hazard/wetland feature on hole No. 4.
Culver, a Newcastle resident and vice president of the Game and Fish Commission, is aptly proud of the new pond. We toured the project following the first kids’ fishing derby there June 4, which is projected to become an annual event.
“This site was just an old oxbow of Little Oil Creek that wasn’t much more than a mosquito nursery the course didn’t have to be altered at all,” said Culver, standing on the south bank of the pond. “It’d been my dream for 20 years to have the spot developed into a pond for the community to enjoy.”
As the district conservationist for the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Weston County, Culver recognized the location’s recreational potential. But during his NRCS career, the local oil refinery was unwilling to donate their well water. After Culver retired and joined the Game and Fish Commission, the refinery changed hands. He pitched the pond idea to the country club’s board of directors. The board approached the refinery again and plant manager James Runyan was happy to get the Wyoming Refining Company involved.
“The refinery generously offering to share their water opened the door for the project,” Culver said.
Now water is piped underground from the well at the refinery three-quarters of a mile to the pond. It produces 60 gallons of water per minute that rise in a mini-fountain at the pond’s east end. The water is a warm 82 to 84 degrees because of its deep origin — 2,600 feet below the surface.
Water was certainly a pivotal piece of the pond puzzle, but money also was needed for earth moving. The Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resources Trust helped address that by awarding the project a $130,000 grant for creation of the pond and rejuvenation of downstream wetlands. Culver gifted the country club a commissioner’s big game license in 2015 to auction, and the club donated the proceeds to help pay for construction. With contributions from additional organizations and businesses, the plan came to life.
Earth started moving in May 2015. Much of the pond is 15 feet deep with a rock-lined bank that drops off quickly to discourage cattail and Canada goose invasion, while promoting bank fishing.
“I don’t want to catch any heat from golfers unhappy about putting through goose poop,” Culver quipped.
Pilings for the pier were donated and sunk by Powder River Energy before the pond was filled. Last winter Game and Fish staff worked on the ice to build the 450-square-foot pier with materials purchased by the Wyoming Sportsman’s Group of Gillette.
Below the surface, there’s more at work that will likely help bass grow big. Thanks to a 2012 wildfire northwest of Newcastle, 32 scorched junipers from Culver’s property were anchored to the bottom of the pond. The 15- to 20-foot trees give little fish a place to hide and bigger fish a place to hunt. Largemouth bass and yellow perch were transferred from Healy Reservoir near Buffalo. Keyhole Reservoir volunteered some surplus crappie and bluegill. Wyoming trout were traded to Arkansas for some channel catfish. Fathead minnows were purchased from a private hatchery to feed the other fish. From all observations the minnows spawned well this summer we saw many schools of mini-fish on our late afternoon June 4 tour.
“Whenever we can create fishing opportunity that kids can easily get to in a town, it’s a great investment,” Mavrakis said. “This pond is a tribute to a cross-section of society — public and private — that came together to make the project possible.”
But, as Culver pointed out before we descended the back side of the pond’s northwest corner, “There’s more to this project than just the pond.”
He showed me the outlet and explained how the water discharge has made the creek flow year-round. That includes the potential for a water hazard on the No. 4 fairway. A little seepage through the pond’s berm also feeds the creek. Establishing the wetlands was important in obtaining the Wyoming Wildlife Natural Resources Trust’s funding.
“How cool would it be to create wildlife habitat and, at the same time, enhance the golf course?” Culver asked as we studied Little Oil Creek where the entrance road crosses it.
On June 9, Black Elk Pond and those who made it possible were honored with the Community Heroes Award from the Wyoming Association of Municipalities.
“WAM loves honoring people in Wyoming who truly make our communities special,” said Shelley Simonton, the association’s executive director. “Fishing is a popular activity across Wyoming, and I hope to fish this pond one day myself. This vision and dedication to community exemplify why Wyoming is a wonderful place to live.”
Through the summer, the discharged water has enhanced the creek, as designed. “The pond has really made Little Oil Creek a pretty little stream flowing through the course,” Culver said on Sept. 1. “We plan to clean and excavate sections of it this fall to enhance the wetlands even more.”
Others also see the pond as a welcome boon for the community.
“It was really satisfying to see this project come together,” said Seth Roseberry, the Game and Fish habitat and access coordinator who oversaw the pier and parking lot construction. “We’re always happy to add an access area, particularly when it has the potential to reach so many youngsters. We’ve got additional public facilities planned for the future along with a storyboard explaining the project and recognizing the contributors.”
Thanks to this community project that began with a round on the adjacent greens, shooting par at the Newcastle Country Club can’t be promised, but anglers of all ages are sure to score some fun fishing.
“It’s really neat to see kids with fishing poles riding their bikes down to the pond,” said Troy Achterof, the Newcastle game warden. “It’s always fun to stop at the pond and talk to them, especially when they catch a bass.”
By Jeff Obrecht, Associate Editor of Wyoming Wildilfe magazine.
Top: In May 2015, crews started removing 15 feet of earth and lining the banks with rock.
Photo by Paul Mavrakis/WGFD
In story: Nine-year-old Lizzy Foote of Osage tested the waters at Black Elk Pond. It’s already a popular fishing hole for anglers of all ages.
Photo by Jeff Obrecht/Wyoming Wildlife
(Wyoming Game and Fish (307) 777-4600)
- WGFD -