Pond Lily Nature Preserve Reopened

Serena Cho PhotoThe New Haven Land Trust celebrated the “reopening” of Pond Lily Nature Preserve Thursday evening, unveiling four educational signs on the ecological effects of a dam removal along the trail.

{With more than 50 New Haveners attending, the staff from New Haven Land Trust led the group along the trail, explaining the environmental significance of the removal of the Pond Lily dam three years ago.

Factories (now long shuttered) once used the dam and the waterwheel as inexpensive sources of energy before the invention of the steam engine. The dam disrupted fish migration patterns and caused flooding in Westville, explained Land Trust Nature Preserves Coordinator Arabelle Schoenberg.

The four signs unveiled during the event outlined the history of the preserve, the history of Pond Lily, the migration of fish on the West River and the effects of dam removal.

“The purpose of the event today is to let the residents know about how much work New Haven Land Trust has put in to revive the ecosystem here and to celebrate all our partners that have been involved in the development of the preserve,” Schoenberg said in an interview. “By unveiling the signs together, we want to let people know about this beautiful preserve and also educate them on the history and ecological significance behind it.”

As attendees walked along the trails, a couple of kids took off the cloth covering the educational signposts, unveiling the description on the preserve’s history.

In 1794, Levi Sperry built the first dam on the West River to power a grain-grinding mill. While multiple dams were modified and rebuilt over the next centuries, an 80-foot spillway cut across the West River until 2016. The dam confined a body of water that came to be called “Pond Lily” or “Willsher Pond,” explained Justin Elicker, executive director of the Land Trust.

According to Schoenberg, the New Haven Land Trust has been working with partner organizations such as the Watershed Fund, Natural Resources Conservation Service, Connecticut Fund for the Environment and Common Ground High School to monitor the environmental effects of dam removal.

One of the signs had photos of the river from 2014 and 2017, highlighting the positive environmental effects of dam removal.

“New native species are populating the former dam site, the West River is returning to its natural course, and migratory fish populations are once again flourishing in this segment of the river,” Schoenberg explained. “The ecosystem has proven to be resilient.”

Elicker joked that although the ecosystem had been destroyed because of the dam, the talented photographer made even the photo from 2014 look beautiful.

New Haven resident Randall Rode said that he appreciated the educational aspect of the event, adding that the changes since the dam removal have been “astounding and wonderful.”

“We’ve been driving up to this area and exploring the preserve recently, but it’s nice to get all the information about how this place came to be what is now,” Rode said. “My favorite part of the trip was walking up close to the water and listening the bubbles and the splash – things you wouldn’t hear back when there was a dam.”

Leslie Lindenauer said her family will be returning to the Preserve in the future. While many residents know that “beautiful nature surrounds the city,” New Haven Land Trust has “excelled” in making those areas more accessible, Lindenauer said.

The Land Trust plans to continue to maintain and monitor the ecosystem at the preserve, and fine ways to keep people interacting with it.

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posted by: Cordalie on May 25, 2018  4:23pm

Another wonderful thing that The New Haven Land Trust is doing to make New Haven a fantastic place to live!

posted by: Razzie on May 26, 2018  9:41am

A great accomplishment. Another step forward.

posted by: Nan Bartow on May 26, 2018  10:16am

Congratulations to Justin Elicker, Arabelle Schoenberg, and all the supporters of the New Haven Land Trust for the preservation of this beautiful and bountiful natural piece of land and river in New Haven. Thanks also to the West River Watershed Coalition, Mary Mushinsky, Frank DeLeo, Save the Sound, and so many others for working tirelessly to accomplish this important endeavor.

posted by: Cek on May 29, 2018  6:30pm

Dropped by this lovely oasis to day,but didn’t have time for the full walk-through.  A suggestion, tho: there is no indication on the sign or trail markers how long the trail is.  Is it a loop trail, or does it end somewhere else?  This information woould be helpful to newcomers….