Johnson Pond: A pond full of memories and poor maintenance

Everyone at Colby knows Johnson Pond. As Colby students, it brings us beautiful views of sunsets, a lovely outdoor space in the summer and a place for ice skating in the winter. Throughout the College’s history, it has inspired countless Instagram photos and created memories that have lasted a lifetime. But in recent decades, the pond has been subject to pollution, poor maintenance and unusual traditions, some of which have been criticized for lack of safety.

The late 1940s and early 1950s were a time of transformation for the campus. As Earl Smith wrote in his book Mayflower Hill: A History of Colby College, new buildings were “sprouting like mushrooms.” During that same time period, in 1948, Colby built Johnson Pond. Smith states that the pond had little signs of life in its early years, and even ducks were not seen on the pond as much as had been expected. Since then, the pond has been a cornerstone of the campus enjoyed by students in all seasons.

The 1990s brought two very interesting, short-lived Johnson Pond traditions to Colby. One took place every year on the last day of spring classes, when graduating seniors would drink champagne, jump into Johnson Pond and then swim across. The tradition began in 1992 but the administration stopped it in 2003 because they felt it compromised the safety of students. According to an April 10, 2003 Echo article, then-Dean of Students not only ended the tradition, but also threatened to suspend students that participated and fine them $1,000. Swimming in Johnson Pond remains forbidden at Colby.webpond

Another celebrated tradition began in 1999. Dubbed the “Johnson Pond Regatta,” the event was held every September and served as an early-semester tradition celebrated just as Loudness still is today. During the regatta, teams would cross the pond in “boats” they had created out of household material, get out on land and touch the other side, and then return. The winners would receive cash prizes, which totaled up to $200 in some years. The last mention of this tradition in Colby records was 2006, but reasons for its cancellation are unknown.

In the past two decades, Johnson Pond has also received negative attention for its pollution and poor maintenance. In the winter of 1997-1998, the college decided to dredge Johnson Pond and clean out any trash and “muck.” According to school officials, the muck at the bottom of the pond caused a great deal of algae that was caused problems for rest of the pond’s life. The pond was empty for several months during the cleaning process, and returned in March of 1998.

However, it seems that the cleaning has not improved the state of the pond in everyone’s eyes. In a letter to the editor for the Morning Sentinel written on August 21, 2009, Waterville local Carla Jenness complained of “copious amounts of excrement” and a third of the pond being “covered in scum.” She spoke positively of her memories at Johnson Pond since her childhood, but was clearly unhappy with its current state, concluding the article with, “Colby, clean up your act!”

In Colby’s 2010-11 sustainability report, the school stated that it was “one year into a multiphase project to improve the water quality in Johnson Pond.” On the Colby website, the school describes the maintenance done on the pond: “A natural buffer strip is maintained around the pond to help as a filter and no fertilizers are used around the pond itself. The pond is periodically inspected by an Aquatic biologist as well as routinely tested for nutrient levels.”

Despite the many controversies surrounding Johnson Pond in the past, it seems that most community members still view the pond as a positive landmark on campus. It is a popular destination on campus for current students, and it is clear that has been the case for many decades past. When I was applying to Colby my senior year of high school, I was interviewed by an alumnus as part of my application process. The alumnus, who graduated decades ago, described his experiences ice skating in Johnson Pond, which were clearly cherished memories from his time at Colby. From the way he talked about the pond, I knew it was a special place on campus. As a community, we should work to ensure it not only stays an important landmark, but also stays in good condition.

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  1. Pingback: Pond Upkeep Why Filters Are Necessary – kittycougar5rosalyn's blog

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