This facility features a football field and stadium, a track, and regulation baseball field, all used by two city high schools. The park also includes lagoons and trails in its nature areas.
The Two Ponds
Nature is constantly changing through a process called succession, and Beaver Ponds Park is no exception. The ponds here were originally created by the beavers, who dammed portions of Beaver Brook until it overflowed. The vegetation was flooded and much of it died, allowing pioneer plants adapted to aquatic conditions to take over. As these plants died and decayed, they released nutrients that allowed other plants to establish themselves. If the ponds are left undisturbed, they may gradually fill up with sediment and decayed plants, and then marshy ground will take their place. But this may take tens to hundreds of years. At present, the two ponds, north and south of Fournier Street, look different because they are in different stages of succession.
Plants are as important in a pond environment as they are in a terrestrial one. The oxygen plants produce when they make food helps replenish the low levels of oxygen often found in stagnant water. Pond animals use plants for food, for shade, or for protection from predators. After they decay, plant matter also provides pond organisms with needed nutrients. Beaver Ponds is home to a wide variety of vegetation. The low-growing plants, called the understory, include the common reed, bull briar, and multiflora rose. Native poison ivy – let the allergic be forewarned - is also abundant in these parts! Many kinds of trees abound as well, such as Black Locust, Red Oak, Sugar and Red Maple, Wild Black Cherry, and Willow.
Ponds play an important role in the lives of many birds. Nearly all birds must visit fresh water regularly to drink and bathe. Some obtain most of their food from ponds by eating either plants or small fish. Others depend on ponds for nesting sties. Because birds are very mobile, they are important agents of distribution of both plant and animal life from pond to pond to another. Over thirty different species of birds have been sighted in Beaver Ponds, among them swans, robins, sparrows, herring gulls, cormorants, mallards, herons and ospreys.
The fish are a resilient bunch, and some can survive extremely foul-water conditions, while others can live for awhile on land. They are thrifty scavengers, some feeding on sifting through mud for organic content. Still other types of fish feed on dead carcasses or fellow fish who are diseased, injured or dying.
For centuries, humans have viewed wetlands as sinister and foreboding. Yet these environments are not only breathtaking, like Beaver Ponds, but they are among the most important ecosystems on Earth. They are sometimes described as the "kidneys of the landscape" because of their ability to filter and store a wide variety of wastes from both natural and human sources. They provide a unique habitat for a wide variety of plants and animals, and they help to control flooding by absorbing excess water.
Nonpoint Source Pollution
Clean water is a resource that is often taken for granted, but it is vital for maintaining healthy communities. We need clean water for growing food, manufacturing goods, and drinking. Uncontaminated water also maintains ecosystems.
Though wetlands have the ability to filter many wastes, the ponds are still vulnerable to excess pollution. One of the biggest sources of pollutants for Beaver Ponds is called nonpolnt source pollution - the combination of all the small amounts of pollution present in a typical urban environment. These pollution sources include animal wastes, salt, lawn fertilizer, motor oils, and overflows from failing septic systems. Pollutants from the atmosphere are also present in the form of rain. Often, the Earth's soil absorbs rainfall and filters out metals which may be present. But asphalt and concrete are not able to absorb water, and the rain runs along these impervious surfaces, picking up pollutants as it goes, until it reaches a pond or a stream. Because stormwater drains are the major source of water for Beaver Ponds, nonpoint source pollution from runoff represents the major source of pollution for the ponds.
Runoff affects not just the Beaver Ponds, but other bodies of water, as well. The water from Beaver Ponds drains into Winter-green Brook, which drains into the West River. The West River, in turn, drains into the Long Island Sound. Beaver Ponds, therefore, is part of the West River and the Long Island Sound watershed.
By moderating our use of water, fertilizer, and automobiles, we can all help keep Beaver Ponds, the West River, and the Long Island Sound clean.
The Beaver Pond Story
Beaver Ponds, like many wetlands, was long considered useless. Before the nineteenth century, the park area was common grazing land, dotted with ponds created by busy beavers. In the early 1800s, ownership of the swampy land was ceded to ten farmers who begged the government to install a drainage system. A century later, the Parks Department continued in this tradition, purchasing, filling, and grading the acreage in the hopes of creating "picturesque lakes and islands, with verdant uplands and wooded banks." Beaver Ponds Park, proclaimed the Park Commissioner's report, would become "one of the chief ornaments of New Haven."
Development activities began in what is now Degale Field, in the southernmost section of the park, and crept northward as the century progressed. The Department created ball fields, playgrounds, elevated walks, and swimming holes; and the lower portion of the park became a popular gathering place for the old and the young. Baseball and football were the most popular pastimes, and in 1947, the City built its first stadium, Bowen Field. Some ten years later, Hillhouse High School was erected on park land, and today, Wilbur Cross High School uses Bowen Field for football, soccer, and baseball. In 1997, the Parks Department created a new field for the Pop Smith Little League.
The Parks Department has also focused recent attention on the ponds of Beaver Ponds. North of Bowen Field along Crescent Street, the Department removed the rusted chain link fence and dense vegetation which for many years hid the ponds from view. Residents from the three neighborhoods surrounding the park—Newhallville, Dixwell, and Beaver Hills—are rediscovering the wonder of the northern section of the park, as they fish, watch for wildlife, and jog along the edge of the ponds.
For More Information
To find out more about activities at Beaver Ponds Park, please contact the Parks Department for the City of New Haven: 203-946-8027
To find out more about neighborhood restoration efforts, please contact:
Urban Resources Initiative, 203-432-6570
To find out more about the West River watershed, please contact: Center for Coastal Watershed Studies, 203-432-3026.
To find out more about when to eat fish caught in Connecticut's water bodies, contact the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, at 860-424-3474. A pamphlet entitled "If I Catch It, Can I Eat It?" also provides more information, and is available at the New Haven Parks Department.