Sustainable Generations

             “People seeing the beauty of this valley will want to stay, and their staying will be the undoing of the beauty.” - Chief Niwot
A cold, westerly wind wiped across my face as snow drifted across the pond’s ice. The sun hung low in the southern sky as it drifted in and out of clouds, causing bursts of cold mixed with periods of warmth. The roar of Boulder Creek mixed with the rustling of the trees. All the while, Mt. Sanitas imposed its dominating beauty. It was a cold winter's day, yet Boulderites from all walks of life came to enjoy the Evert Pierson Kids’ Fishing Ponds.

A solitary kid hopped across the stones fording the ponds, as college students tested the strength of the ponds’s ice by walking then jumping to see if the surface would break. A family walked their yellow lab on the dirt trails lining the far side of the lake while their young son excitedly ran ahead. A couple sat and ate lunch on an isthmus separating the two lakes, accompanied by the sounds of birds chirping in the blue spruce trees. An old man rested at a picnic bench on a low hill with views of both ponds. For my part, I was greeted by the scent of sweet vanilla emanating from the Ponderosa pines.

Evert Pierson Fishing Ponds in Winter (Boulder Fish and Game Club)

Meanwhile, on the boulder bike path lying less than 20 feet north of the ponds, a diverse chorus of recreationists paraded by. A man in an electric wheelchair slowly rolled up the path while a recreational cyclist flew by. Adults ran, as kids skated, and dogs walked along the bike path.

Visiting the Evert Pierson Kids' Fishing Pond on this winter's day, I observed what I have observed during every season, that this park is a sanctuary. Located along Boulder Creek between 6th and 9th street, only two blocks away from the concrete mass of downtown Boulder, the ponds offer an escape into nature for all Boulderites, hopefully inspiring land conservation for generations to come.

Stones crossing the pond in fall (Author’s Photo)

Despite the pond's current state as a natural sanctuary, the post-settler history of the site is the antithesis of conservation. The first reference I could find to the land use of the site is of the Preston lumber mill, established sometime before 1897. The following photograph is of the mill in 1900 (Preston Mill 1900). The industrial scene of the lumber mill is in stark contrast to the natural scenery I saw. After many years, the mill would shut down, but the environmental degradation of the site was far from over.

Preston Mill 1900

Sometime after 1900, the University of Colorado Boulder decided to convert the former site of the mill to a gravel pit and started “mining gravel out of there for whatever they needed up at the university,” according to long-time Boulder resident Michael Thompson (Jacobson 2015).

While no study has ever been done on the environmental effects of the gravel pit mine on Boulder Creek, gravel mining today is a controversial local topic. A permit was granted for gravel mining along the St. Vrain Creek in Longmont at the Hygiene site by the Boulder district court, then revoked in 2021 by the Colorado Court of Appeals (John Fryar 2021). According to the group Save Our St. Vrain Vally, “Open pit gravel mining operations greatly disrupt the water table in the mined areas,” leading to “artesian springs and shallow wells” going dry. 

Whether the Boulder Creek gravel site suffered from these same problems can not be known unless further research is done. Despite these environmental concerns, the gravel pits would have left a gaping scar on the banks of what could have been an otherwise pristine stretch of Boulder Creek.

By the 1940s, the university decided they no longer needed the gravel pits. The plan was to cover up the pits. However, during this same time, the Boulder Fish and Game Club saw a resurgence in membership. The club wanted to continue this passion among future generations. The Club originally “tried for a few years to plant fish in the various irrigation ditches in Boulder,” stated long-time club member Richard H. Ross in an Interview (Wickstrom 2008). He continued, “More of those fish were caught by adults than kids,” adding, “Those irrigation ditches are dangerous when they are flowing.”

During this time, one club member claimed, “Hey, they’re just going to cover it up. Couldn’t we use that pond to plant fish in?” After a significant amount of work from the Boulder Fish and Game club, with help from the City of Boulder and the Cosmopolitan club, “the university people, I’m sure it went as high as the regents, agreed to donate [the gravel pits] to the City of Boulder, through the Boulder Fish and Game Club” stated Ross. By the 1950s the fishing ponds were built.

In this process, the Boulder Fish and Game club, with the enthusiasm of its outdoor-inspired members, was able to transform the gravel pits into a space where generations of Boulderites can escape into nature. Michal Thompson describes, “I’m taking my grandkids there now; I caught my first fish there” (Jacobson 2015). Generations of Boulderites have come here. Generations have escaped the city to fish the ponds and enjoy nature.

Winners of the 1964 Kids Fishing Derby 

According to a study by Catherine Broom of the University of Cambridge, Kids who play in nature may have “later views of, and actions towards, the environment” that tend to be more positive. Having these kids play at the fish pond will increase the number of adults who care about the environment.

This is particularly important to Boulder and to this site. The Autumn of 2021 was the third driest Autumn on record in Boulder. This lack of precipitation was a large factor in the severity of the Marshal fire, directly leading to 1,084 homes being destroyed. Scientists have already tied Climate change to this fire. According to NOAA, “Models suggest human-caused climate change has increased the number of December days with high fire risk”(Rebecca 2022). Further, virtually all models show a drier Colorado in the future from climate change 

In September 2013, the opposite occurred. A 1000-year rain event occurred in Boulder, causing massive flooding along Boulder Creek. To reiterate, in proportional terms, a storm with only a 1/1000 preindustrial probability caused nearly 300 million dollars in flood damages to the Boulder area(Boulder County). Among the damages include the destruction, and subsequent two-year closure, of the Evert Pierson fishing ponds.

2013 flood along Boulder Creek near the Boulder Public Library

While a single storm can never be linked to climate change, according to a study from the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, the storm was made 30% more likely as a result of human Climate Change (Pall 2017). 

Climate change is affecting Boulder. From increased chance of floods to more fires, if emissions are not cut, Boulder will be dealing with even more environmental challenges. The next generation may increasingly be called upon to reduce their emotions. Parks like the Evert Pierson Kids’ Fishing Ponds will help raise more conservational-minded kids.

However, even with all the environmental benefits the ponds provide, they are not perfect. The fish used in the pond are Cuttbow trout, a species more tolerant to the warm waters of the pond but not native to Colorado (Boulder Fish and Game Club). Though not an invasive species, the Cuttbow trout compete with local trout for recourses.

Further, the ponds themselves use diversion dams to alter the natural flow of Boulder Creek. The altercation of the wild flow of rivers can cause changes to the “physical habitat, habitat access, food supplies, behavior, community composition, energy expenditure, and population dynamics” of fish (Rytwinski).

Could The Boulder Fish and Wildlife Club use a native species of trout? Is there a way to construct the ponds in a way that more closely mimics the natural flow of the river? I do not know the answers to these questions? But do the rewards of having a place where Boulderites can escape into nature and kids can learn to become more environmentally minded out way the environmental cost of the fish ponds? That is for you to decide.

Work Cited