Contractors Collaborate on Recreational Pond

Published on April 29, 2022

Brian Helfrich operates the excavator and agrees that “Hoaglandscape rocks!”

When my wife Christie and I decided we would stay in our existing home for the rest of our lives, we had an architect design a massive renovation. Drawing up the plan took a year. It took two more years to wipe out the debt necessary to initiate action.

Today, our home serves as my company’s showroom. Hoaglandscape headquarters is something of a water dreamland. In the front yard, we have two 40-foot pondless waterfalls and a set of spillway bowls. In the backyard, we have a set of three scalloped urns manufactured by Aquascape. For years we had a small ecosystem pond as well. Taking prospective clients here has led to many sales.

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After we decided to renovate, I knew one thing had to happen first: I wanted a recreational or swim pond. There would be no way to stage the 90 tons of boulders it would require after the renovation. The pond simply had to come first.

As a Master Certified Aquascape Contractor (CAC), I have had the privilege of meeting some of the finest water feature artists in the world. While I had participated in a huge swim pond build with some other CACs three years prior, I knew I would need some guidance and help in my own renovation endeavor.

We dug the 44-by-14-by-4-foot pond in two days. Thirteen dump trucks hauled some 80 tons of soil off the property. More helped arrived when David Blocksom, owner of Pondscapes of Charlotte, volunteered for a day.

Enter #collaborationnation

“Collaboration Nation came from partnering with other YouTube vloggers to get more views and subscriptions,” said Greg Wittstock, CEO of Aquascape Inc. “Then we started applying it to our CACs’ efforts when they worked together.”

The walls of the 44-by-14-foot pond were constructed within just two days.

“Greg Wittstock, The Pond Guy,” his YouTube channel, has showcased this concept to its more than 222,000 subscribers.

I wanted to use this strategy to get some of the best artists in the world to help me with my project. I reached out to two I had in mind, but their talents had them busy on other projects with other contractors. 

I had worked a week with Aquascape’s construction team the previous year, so I contacted Brian Helfrich, Vice President of Aquascape Construction, for permission to contact one of his employees. He was fine with it, but the guy I had in mind was busy and about to enjoy his passion during the offseason — hunting.

“Well, I’d ask you, but I know you can’t,” I said to Helfrich.

“Why do you say that?” he replied.

“I know you’re too busy,” I said.

“Well, I have some vacation coming up,” Helfrich said. 

Pond Time Off (PTO)

So it all boiled down to simple luck. Helfrich does not usually work for other contractors, but because he had vacation time he would otherwise not use, he was available.

He and Jorge Castellanos of California Aqua Pros each helped design my pond. Helfrich arrived the first week in January to help. On the day before the build was to begin, I expressed my interest in a Japanese tea house. Brian liked the idea and showed me a picture of a tall “bridal veil” fall next to a tea house from a collection of photos he had pinned on Pinterest. 

“That’s what I want!” I said.

Coming Together

We dug the 44-by-14-by-4-foot pond in two days. Thirteen dump trucks hauled some 80 tons of soil off the property. More helped arrived when David Blocksom, owner of Pondscapes of Charlotte, volunteered for a day. He is very talented on an excavator and was crucial in the installment of a huge sitting boulder on the edge of the pond. His son Bradley helped on another day. I even had my old foreman drop by to help.

A 12-by-10-foot traditional Japanese tea house sits in a corner of the pond. The deck overlay provides a hiding spot for koi.

Within four days, the pond was entirely rocked in, with an intake bay installed. We marked out two waterfall streams to take advantage of the topography’s 7 ½-foot drop. Helfrich added a sunken patio to the design. I hired subcontractors to build three flagstone patios. While my crew worked on edges, Helfrich and I got to work on the waterfalls.

Working with Helfrich was easy. He is great at rock placement, but he didn’t just take over. He asked for my input and what I wanted, giving me room to create as well. While he worked on a bottom waterfall, I worked on one above it. The tips I picked up from him were invaluable.

Helfrich left after eight days. The entire pond and four waterfall steps were completed in that timeframe. My crew and I were left with constructing the wetland filtration and remainder of the waterfall streams.

Finishing Touches

The wetland consisted of 16 large AquaBlox. We made it the start of our left stream as a small 14-inch deep “pond.” We measured and installed liner, but the weather became inclement. We slogged through thick red mud, and the work slowed to a crawl. We kept pushing through the process, but this forced us to go out and perform some pond cleanouts to generate cash flow for the business. Finally, at the end of February, most of the project was completed. 

A total of 13 waterfalls highlight 40 feet of streams. Many plants were added — several of Japanese origin to complete our Asian theme.

If Helfrich had not been able to help me, even with my 13 years of aquatic-construction experience, the job would have taken at least an additional month. 

Indeed, Collaboration Nation had worked its magic!

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