By: Tom Biebighauser
Vernal ponds are seasonal wetlands that provide critical breeding habitat to rare amphibians like the wood frog, spadefoot toad and four-toed salamander. These fascinating ecosystems provide wildlife habitat, reduce flooding, and clean runoff from residential areas.
Vernal ponds are shallow and generally contain water that is only twelve inches deep. They can be expected to dry naturally in the fall and fill again by means of winter rains. Vernal ponds don’t present a safety risk for young people because they’re shallow, have gradually sloped sides and contain a soft bottom.
Vernal ponds can actually help reduce mosquito numbers in an area. Mosquitoes may check in to a vernal pond, but they won’t check out! Salamander tadpoles and aquatic insects that live in healthy vernal ponds prey heavily on mosquito eggs and larvae. Tree swallows and bats are also attracted to and will catch and eat any mosquitos flying around.
Vernal ponds can actually help reduce mosquito numbers in an area. Mosquitoes may check in to a vernal pond, but they won’t check out! Salamander tadpoles and aquatic insects that live in healthy vernal ponds prey heavily on mosquito eggs and larvae. Tree swallows and bats are also attracted to vernal ponds, and will catch and eat any adult mosquitoes flying around
Many educators are building vernal ponds at their school for use as outdoor classrooms. They’re using wetlands for environmental studies by sampling amphibians, reptiles, invertebrates and plants and for monitoring water quality. Students are discovering that wetlands are wonderful places to visit for art class and provide great topics for portfolios.
Vernal ponds can be built at schools, nature centers, parks, in fields and forested areas. Most wetlands built at schools are oval shaped, measuring 30 feet wide by 40 feet long, which is a size large enough for a class of 30 to encircle without crowding. The average cost for constructing a vernal pond on clay soils is $900, while building on gravel or sandy ground may cost twice as much because of the need to purchase a synthetic liner.
You can use a PRIDE Environmental Education Grant to design and fund a wetland project. A good way to get started is to read my book A Guide to Creating Vernal Ponds (PDF). You may then want to contact PRIDE to schedule a site visit where you’ll receive help in designing a wetland project.
About Tom Biebighauser
Tom Biebighauser is a wildlife biologist and wetland ecologist with decades of experience in wetland and stream restoration. He currently owns and operates Wetland Restoration and Training LLC. He retired in 2013 from a 35-year career as a wildlife biologist for the USDA Forest Service, stationed from 1998 until 2013 at the Morehead Ranger District of the Daniel Boone National Forest in Kentucky. As a PRIDE consultant, Tom assists schools and nonprofit organizations across the region with wetland education and construction.
Tom began making wetlands in 1982 on the Superior National Forest in Minnesota. He moved to Kentucky in 1988 and has since established over 700 seasonal, permanent, emergent, and forested wetlands in Kentucky and Ohio. He built these wetlands in partnership with numerous organizations and thousands of volunteers.
Tom received a National Forest System, Taking Wing Award, for completing the Wild Wings Wetland Project in 1993, a, Taking Wing Award, for Leadership in Wetland Restoration in 1998, and a, Taking Wing Award, for Community Involvement in 2001. In 1999, he was the recipient of the Award of Merit sponsored by Goodyear and the National Association of Conservation Districts for outstanding accomplishments in resource conservation practices. He was the 2005 recipient of Eastern Kentucky PRIDE’s Kentucky PRIDE Award for his leadership in restoring the state’s wetlands and his commitment to educating children and adults about wetlands.