By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington Town Council voted unanimously in favor of supporting a neighborhood assistance grant application of up to $150,000 for YMCA Camp Sloper’s “Save Sloper Pond” initiative.
Southington YMCA CEO Mark Pooler said the pond is following its natural life course by slowly filling in with silt and sediment. Ponds eventually fill in and become swamps, then meadows. In order to save Sloper Pond, the pond needs to be dredged.
“The 19-acre pond is the centerpiece to that 143-acre property,” said Pooler. “We were the recipients of this great gift in 1949 from Cornelia Sloper Neil. It’s now our responsibility to maintain the property.”
Originally YMCA officials hoped to remove 125,000 cubic yards of silt and sediment, but scaled it back to 90,000 cubic yards over two phases. The cost would be between $6 million and $11 million.
Phase one would take care of some of the critical areas around the beaches and install underwater berms to help prevent inland silt coming in. It would include a draw down valve that would expose the berm so the YMCA can continue preventative maintenance on the pond. Additional dredging would take place on the north corner of the pond in phase two if funding allows.
The pond is roughly 8-10 feet deep at its deepest. The dredging process would deepen the pond to around 10-12 feet.
“I’ve been at the YMCA for 30 years and there are parts of the pond that I used to be able to canoe in that I can no longer do because there’s so much silt and sediment,” said Pooler. “While I don’t have an exact timeline as how the pond would turn from a pond to a swamp to a meadow, we’ve been told the time is right for us to act.”
The process would take about two years and Camp Sloper would need to close the pond during that process. Part of the plan includes putting splash pads and additional bathrooms in place so Camp Sloper can still offer some form of aquatic recreational activities to camp goers.
The YMCA received a $3 million grant from the state of Connecticut in 2016 to go towards the project. That money, along with the neighborhood assistance grant, and other grant-seeking and fundraising plans would all come together.
During a public hearing for the neighborhood assistance grant, one resident expressed concern about what would happen to existing wildlife both in the pond and around it during the two-year dredging and construction.
“If the pond is dredged, I believe we will have a most damaging effect on the pond’s ecology,” he said. “If after a prolonged period of dredging in a minimum of two years for swimming, what will be left for the ecology of the pond? It could possibly become a mud hole.”
Pooler explained the middle portion of the lake would still have water during the project since there is no way to get equipment to it. Other wildlife will be able to access other wetland areas within the pond. The biggest concern, though, is the fish.
“Sadly, DEEP has no regulation to the wildlife and they say to just let it go and it will come back. We don’t feel that’s the right environmental responsible act to move forward,” Pooler said. “We’re going to use as many fishing derbies as possible to transplant fish and wildlife to locations that are appropriate.”
Pooler said there probably will be some loss in the end, but experts have assured them that wildlife will come back with proper care to the ecosystem.
“We have some plans in place that will make a better ecological system when we’re done with the project,” said Pooler. “There’s plans in the final phases to add underwater rock habitats and underwater trees so that the fish habitat has places to lay eggs.”
The pond is available for more than 3,000 kids on a daily basis over the summer and over 10,000 guests for various activities throughout the year.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.