Trouble brews beneath the surface of Ashley Pond

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By Kirsten Laskey

Every town has a center, a location that is the hub of activity and a source of community pride. Ashley Pond could certainly be considered Los Alamos’ center; however, beneath the placid surface of the water trouble is brewing.
Los Alamos County Parks Division Manager Richard McIntyre said the pond is dying as a result of eutrophication, a process in which oxygen is depleted from the water by the decomposition of large amounts of organic matter. McIntyre said eutrophication is caused by a number of things – overpopulation of fish, fowl and a lack of circulation that keeps water moving around in the pond.
It is not unusual for this problem to occur, McIntyre said, and there is an effort underway to improve Ashley Pond.
An application to receive funds for a study phase in the county’s capital improvement project (CIP) process has been submitted.
The CIP Oversight and Review Committee will rank and score this and other applications Thursday. Los Alamos County Council will discuss the CIP proposals on Dec. 7.
The goal for the pond CIP, McIntyre said, is to get a team together to get input and direction on improvements as well as hire a design team. The pond will not be redesigned, he said, but rather re-fitted.
There are a lot of things to balance such as the duck and fish population along with water quality issues, McIntyre said.
A consensus needs to be achieved on a number of things before the project moves ahead, McIntyre said, such as the pond’s wildlife and riparian habitat.
It is also proposed in the CIP application to address American with Disabilities Act issues, the pond’s bulkhead, the pathway around the pond, water quality and circulation, signage, lighting, concert venue, landscape buffers and storm water quality techniques.
The last time the pond was improved was in 1974, which is when a new bulkhead was installed in the pond.
The projected costs for this round of improvements will come in between $2-$5 million, according to county estimates.
 Ashley Pond is worth saving, McIntyre said, because “I think it is an important site. It is an important site; it is the center of town.”
He added, “It’s something that needs to be done for health and safety reasons.”
“It is our central gathering point for the community so we ought to make it representative of our community values,” said Ron Wilkins of the Fuller Lodge Historic District Advisory Board, which is sponsoring the CIP.
After presenting the proposal during one of several public hearing the CIP committee is hosting, Wilkins said it was mentioned to focus on the areas that are immediate to the pond and make improvements that are important regardless of what is done with the municipal building. Currently there is an effort to return the building back to its original site at Ashley Pond.  
Wilkins said Ashley Pond is special because of “its history as the center of the technical area for the Manhattan Project. It’s just a beautiful setting with the water and the view of the mountains.”
Ashley Pond, which is named after the founder of the Los Alamos Ranch School, was originally just a natural depression, which collected snowmelt and rainfall.

Kirsten Laskey can be contacted at lareporter@lamonitor.com.