Overcoming the Challenges of Building a Recreational Pond

Published on December 30, 2023

Recreational Pond Construction
Be sure to plan a staging area for rocks and products when installing a recreational pond.

In the quest for serenity and a connection with nature, many homeowners are turning to recreational ponds as a transformative addition to their outdoor spaces. These purposefully crafted bodies of water not only bring aesthetic appeal but also offer the ideal opportunity for interacting with water.

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When you consider the actual definition of a recreational pond, most pond builders have been creating them for years. A recreational pond is simply a manmade body of water designed and constructed for leisure and recreational purposes, regardless of size.

Recreational ponds can serve various purposes, including fishing, swimming and providing a scenic and tranquil environment for relaxation. They are typically landscaped to enhance their natural beauty and often include features like decks, patios, bridges and aquatic vegetation. Building a recreational pond involves careful planning, construction and maintenance to ensure it meets both functional and aesthetic goals.

For this article, let’s focus on building recreational ponds specifically designed for swimming. Distinguished by their larger dimensions and increased depth compared to smaller backyard ponds, usually ranging from 2 to 3 feet deep, these swimming ponds require careful consideration of crucial factors due to their substantial size and extended construction duration.

Before You Start Digging a Recreational Pond

Recreational pond designs
When designing a recreational pond, plan space for adjacent outdoor living areas and landscaping

First, make sure you have the skill set and experience to tackle an advanced project. Start with smaller ponds to help you understand the management of water. Once you’ve gotten your feet wet with small to medium ponds, you can scale up to larger ponds. One way to do this is to build smaller ponds that are deeper than a few feet, then move up to your recreational pond.

Consider establishing a recreational pond either in your own backyard or for someone you know. This approach not only reduces stress when addressing potential issues but also provides valuable hands-on experience. Collaborating with an experienced pond builder well versed in installing larger ponds is also advisable.

Planning & Designing a Recreational Pond

The journey to a recreational pond begins with meticulous planning. Doing your homework prior to construction is an absolute must. There’s a saying that states, “for every hour of planning, you save 20 hours of work.” This couldn’t be truer when crafting larger water features.

Rec pond with gazebo, Ontario Canada
Incorporate multiple interactive areas when designing a recreational pond. A gazebo creates an ideal space to enjoy this water feature by Joey Genovese of Genoscape Inc. in Markham, Ontario, Canada.

Create a design that complements the vision and surrounding environment. Factor in the size of the pond, depths and any additional features like waterfalls or rock formations. Also consider access points for human interaction. This could include a deck, patio, large flat boulders at the pond’s edge for sitting and even stone steps leading down into the pond.

To make planning and construction easier, Aquascape offers two sizes of recreational ponds in a kit format, which helps alleviate the stress of piecing components together. The smaller kit yields a 9-by-20-foot pond, while the larger one results in a 19-by-24-foot pond. Notably, both kits incorporate essential components for a constructed wetland.

Given the human interaction involved in recreational ponds, an elevated filtration system is imperative, necessitating a higher water turnover rate of once or twice per hour. Noteworthy is the fact that the wetland filter is designed to be up to 50% of the surface area of the main pond. This strategic integration ensures optimal water quality management, fostering a healthy and thriving environment for recreational pond activities. In addition, you also need to anticipate an area equal to or greater than the pond when considering the wetland filter, berm and planting areas, streams and waterfalls.

Whether opting for a kit or a custom design, it’s prudent to contemplate several factors before embarking on the installation of a recreational pond.

Excavation and Construction

AquaBlox Water Storage Modules create the base of the wetland filtration system for a contemporary recreational pond.

Once the planning and design stages are complete, it’s time to bring the vision to life through excavation and construction.

Before you start digging, do your homework ahead of time and familiarize yourself with the municipality’s regulations so there’s no hidden surprises once construction begins. You need to know your liabilities when you’re digging deeper than 2 feet deep.

Keep in mind that the amount of soil removed for a recreational pond is far greater than your standard 8-by-11-foot pond that’s 2 feet deep. This likely involves heavy machinery, so it’s crucial to consider how you’ll access the property with the necessary equipment. With a small backyard pond, you can use the excavated soil to create a berm, but with a large pond, you’ll need the proper resources to haul away most of the dirt.

Due to increased depth of excavation, you might hit groundwater depending on your geographical location, time of the year and climatic conditions. Rainy periods and storms can temporarily cause excess water in the deeper sections of the excavation. You’ll need to evaluate and understand the soil conditions and long-term challenges of this issue. Installing a sub-liner drainage system might be necessary to ensure a successful installation. If this isn’t addressed during the construction phase, groundwater may become a long-term functional issue, which becomes more costly to fix when the pond is complete.

There are a lot of logistics to plan and consider when constructing recreational ponds. Make sure you plan for the staging and delivery of products. You’ll need approximately 60 to 75 tons of stone, which doesn’t include river gravel. Before supplies are delivered, determine where they’ll be staged and how you’ll access and move them during the construction process.

In good weather conditions, a smaller recreational pond can be installed in approximately two weeks with a five-man team. A larger rec pond takes about three weeks or more, depending on the scope of the water feature. 

Landscaping and Aesthetics

Landscaping around the pond helps seamlessly integrate it into the surrounding environment. Use rocks, boulders and native vegetation to create a naturalistic border. Incorporate a variety of plantings to provide habitat for wildlife and enhance the aesthetic appeal of the pond.

Don’t forget about lighting options, both underwater and around the pond perimeter, to extend the enjoyment of the recreational oasis into the evening hours.

Building a Recreational Pond vs. a Swimming Pool

Traditional, chemically treated swimming pools are being replaced with water the way nature intended it to be. This means water that’s naturally balanced and filtered, providing a healthier, sustainable environment for human interaction.

If you have a customer asking for a swimming pool, it’s not always wise to try and talk them into a recreational pond. The pool customer is different from a pond customer and is more interested in swimming in a sterile environment. Your customer might not be aware of recreational ponds, and it’s perfectly fine to educate them about a natural option that’s better for their health and the environment. But understand that if they really want a pool, they likely won’t be happy with a recreational pond.

For more information on recreational ponds and kit options, visit www.aquascapeinc.com/recreational-ponds.

About the Author

Ed Beaulieu is vice president of field research and contractor development for Aquascape Inc. He has successfully built thousands of custom-designed ponds from small backyard water gardens to large lakes and commercial water features. 

Recreation pond in Barrington Hills, IL
Recreational ponds provide hours of enjoyment, and their beauty can be admired every day of the year.
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