Neighbors fear loss of Hawthorn Pond

Official promises study on extending life of drought-stricken area

August 31, 1999|By Zanto Peabody | Zanto Peabody,SUN STAFF

Hawthorn Pond, where neighbors lounging on hammock-strung decks can fish and take pictures of heron and geese in a good year, is full of lore, if not water.

There is the story of a woman who, fearing a 12-year-old carp would suffocate in the ankle-high waters, captured the fish and kept it in her bathtub. And what was a palm-sized snapping turtle nursed by Tamarind Association President Allan Blondell and his son is reputed to be the 2-foot-wide submariner that attacks ducks.

Residents around the pond, who have spent their time and money keeping water in the public pond for most of the decade, are telling the Columbia Association it is "a feature we don't want to see dry out and be destroyed," Blondell said.

But if the Columbia Association cannot come up with a way to keep the Hickory Ridge pond full, lore will be all that is left of it.

"We knew in June, when the pond was at an August low, that by the end of the summer there would be no pond if we didn't take action," Blondell said. "So we got together, a save-the-pond type of thing."

About 50 residents of Tamarind and the surrounding area took the issue to the Hickory Ridge Village Board on June 28. They got what they wanted: a promise from Chick Rhodehamel, the Columbia Association's director of open space, to commission a study on extending the life of the pond.

Rain last week gave it another brief respite. After the downpours, the water level rose enough to cover the lip of brown earth creeping in, but lush green grass still covered once-watery parts of the pond area. Thursday, a slim blue heron stalked lunch in the marsh.

Months of drought have imperiled all five of Columbia's "sky" ponds, so called because they are supposed to be refilled by rain, springs and storm drainage.

But Hawthorn Pond, which predates Columbia in the Village of Hickory Ridge, has come close to becoming Hawthorn Marsh in recent years while other ponds have flourished.

With or without the drought, Blondell said, Hawthorn will dry up.

Again this year, grass and cattails grow nearly to the center of Hawthorn, even though the CA filled the pond with water from a fire hydrant about two months ago, responding to pressure by the owners of 28 homes around the pond who make up the Tamarind Association.

The residents see refilling the pond from a hydrant as a stopgap, one they would rather not exercise.

Tamarind residents say Hawthorn Pond is different from the other "sky" ponds suffering from the drought and deserves attention from the Columbia Association.

"CA takes the position that the pond drying up is nature taking its course," said Dale Bowen, chairman of Tamarind's grounds committee. "It's not nature taking its course. Man came in here, developed the land around us and diverted the drainage away from the pond. This is a man-made problem."

The other four ponds serve as part of their neighborhoods' storm-water drainage system or have underground springs feeding them.

Blondell, whose brother-in-law built the Tamarind homes, said Hawthorn Pond once was an important part of the Hickory Ridge drainage system. Subsequent development shifted drainage flow away from the pond, taking away a major water source, he said.

Bowen said he and other homeowners paid a premium to have homes on the pond.

"CA and Howard County government approved the storm system and drainage plan for our area, more or less signing the death of the pond," Bowen said. "They should have told us when we moved in: `Oh, by the way, the pond won't be there in a few years.' "

When the pond study is conducted before next summer, it will be the first time the Tamarind group has sought a long-term solution from CA. The association has filled the pond from fire hydrants a few times in recent years. Residents pooled money in 1991 to buy a pump to siphon water from a stream a few dozen feet away.

Options for saving Hawthorn for good might be slim, though. Rhodehamel, who commissioned the study, said federal regulations have changed since a farmer dug the watering hole for his cattle, limiting the sizes and locations of ponds. Possibilities that remain include continuing to pump water into the pond or redirecting a nearby stream to fill it.

"You just can't go dig up a pond the same way grandpa did it," Rhodehamel said. "You have to work within the confines of a myriad of regulations."

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