Tackling the Elephant: Bringing large-scale plans to fruition

Watching the beautiful Illinois countryside go by, I was thankful for the three-hour drive back home. My visit to a large farm in Galena, Ill. had been a successful one; the owner was hoping to turn his beautiful property into an even more beautiful water feature of immense proportions. Having just taken a tour around the premises, I knew our team at Ponds Inc. could create it! But first, I needed these hours of solitude to design and plan ideas, putting them on my voice recorder to be retrieved later when I was in the office.

The Design

The completed design would have a large platform area a short walk away from the new home’s patio. This platform would also make a fantastic cliff face and double as an area to jump into the pond. 1pondconstruction Natural ledges would form a staircase down to the beach area, located on the southwest point of the triangle. Jetting would be incorporated all throughout the beach and all along the new home’s side of the pond to increase water flow.

Over in the valley on the northwest point of the triangle, we would create a simulated, spring-fed stream that would have an area the family could cross with all-terrain vehicles or carts. Across the pond, on the pole building side, we would have large, dramatic waterfalls that could easily be viewed from both houses and the beach, which would be fed by a large wetlands bog filter, 70 feet by 50 feet in size. Additional cliff-like ledges would also be on the pole building side of the pond.

The overflow would be on the southeast side of the pond, which seemed to have the majority of the natural wind flow. This, along with the jets, waterfalls and stream, would help move debris toward the overflow area, where it would be easier to remove.

The road side of the pond would have another cliff area that could be planted and would give the beach area a secluded feel.

Massive boulders give this recreational pond a natural, quarry-like appearance.
Massive boulders give this recreational pond a natural, quarry-like appearance.

No Small Plans

Planning this pond was not the same as it would be for a much smaller creation, and it wasn’t like you could get the can of spray paint out to lay out the lines! I did the next best thing, though — I built a scale, 3D model of the pond after designing it, complete with shelves.

The reason for this was to calculate the liner size. Liners of this size can be extremely costly, so every dollar saved is a benefit. Normally when figuring out your liner, you are working with rectangular shapes. A rectangular shape for this pond would have been over 100,000 square feet! Too big and too expensive, it would have also required seaming.


Instead, I figured on using a 36 mil, triple-reinforced polypropylene liner, which is thinner than the 60 mil but much stronger, according to the manufacturer. A single piece was available up to 50,000 square feet. The manufacturer had never made a triangular piece before … especially one that large! This is not where I wanted to be a pioneer, but I knew that as long as I had a scale model, that liner should work, right? Of course! (I knew this because MythBusters, that great television series on TLC, uses scale models for their experiments all the time! If it works for those fellas, then why shouldn’t it work for me?)

Using a thin piece of triangular cloth cut to scale, I worked it around the shelves of my model, repeatedly checking for excesses. It seemed to be fine and I knew I could cut considerable cost by ordering it cut in a large, triangular shape.

I continued to calculate rock quantities and system components. The final proposal was completed and after meeting once again with the client, the project was approved to be completed in 30 working days! Galena, here we come!

The view from the top of the waterfalls invites you to jump in.
The view from the top of the waterfalls invites you to jump in.

The Big Day

When we arrived at the farm, the 80,000-pound excavator and 40,000- pound loader were already there waiting for us, poised to tackle the elephant! So were we … except for a few unexpected obstacles that were thrust upon us when we showed up! There always seem to be a few of those on any large project, and this was no exception.

The difference between this project’s obstacles and those of any other project are that little ponds have little problems, and — you guessed it — big ponds have big problems! Unfortunately, this problem was bigger than most.

A massive pile of bedrock outcroppings had been piled at the mouth of the valley on the northwest point of the triangle. This pile was approximately 400-plus tons of varying sizes — outcropping chunks between 500 and 3,000 pounds, all tangled together like giant rip rap.

“This isn’t going to be easy to move,”

I said with a sigh. “I’m sure that somebody wanted to teach these Chicago boys a thing or two for invading their territory!” It must have been one tough excavation on that hillside for the new home’s foundation with that much rock. On a positive note, the dirt was compacted nicely to a six-foot depth and the ledge ring was complete.

Massive boulders split the 50,000 gph waterfalls fed by the wetlands bog filtration system.
Massive boulders split the 50,000 gph waterfalls fed by the wetlands bog filtration system.

Another major concern was that a 13-inch rainfall had occurred in a very short time the week before we started.

Everyone was an expert with a disaster tale about what would happen to our liner-based pond in the hills of Galena … always a comforting way to start any project of this magnitude! Needless to say, it can create a bit of self-doubt here and there. Mother Nature is one tough cookie, and she has dealt me an uppercut or two during construction. I sure hoped she wouldn’t show up to teach me a lesson again on this one!

The view from inside the home, overlooking the large, one-acre pond.
The view from inside the home, overlooking the large, one-acre pond.

Hauling Rock

Another challenge to overcome was getting stone to our work site and deciding where to stage it for selection once it was there. We were informed by the builder that we could not place any rock anywhere near the new home side of the pond, and that they needed us to keep the road open for their all- terrain forklift to transfer timber from the pole building to the house site. This is where they had a saw mill set up. We only had a small staging area to work with, located about 2,000 feet from the pond on the hill just beyond the pole building. Still, the bigger problem was getting the stones there. The quarry was approximately 10 miles away through winding hills — and located in another state! All this and done in 30 days? No worries: the fellas at Ponds Inc. are problem solvers!


Luckily, we were able to solicit the use of a driver and use a large, off-road, heavy hauling dump truck for use on the road. I’m not sure how this was allowed, but the local powers of the area granted its use on the road! The truck engulfed the entire roadway and its shoulders and was used to haul approximately 1,400 tons of large, shot-blasted quarry stones. The stones ranged from an average 5,000 to 10,000 pounds up to 20,000 pounds or more! These were some serious sized stones … in fact, we ran the quarry out of stone twice between blasts!

We continued on with excavation and layout and kept as many stones as possible in the staging area while they were able to haul. We also had continuous trucking of gravel and washed river rock from the Mississippi River trucked to the feeding platform around the silo. This feeding area had a great concrete pad for the gravel to be staged. There are many other challenges we could talk about, like mud, breaking lifting straps, refueling and extremely tight working conditions with big machines … but they go with the jobs that we know and love. Passion fuels the desire to get the impossible achieved!

A beautiful view of the Galena countryside, with the pond-side silo proudly standing tall and displaying its farming heritage.
A beautiful view of the Galena countryside, with the pond-side silo proudly standing tall and displaying its farming heritage.

The End Result

Careful planning with the end in mind is what lead us to completing this job in 35 working days, in spite of large obstacles. This project has over 2,000 tons of stone installed and a flow rate of approximately 110,000 gallons per hour! There are three 30,000 gallon-per-hour Grindex Pumps installed in Aquascape pump vaults, which have the Snorkel/Centipede units and extensions. These vaults are located in key locations and are set at depths of six to eight feet to maximize constant water flow. Three Aquascape Pondless Vaults house three Aquascape PRO 10,000 gallon-per-hour pumps used for the elaborate jetting systems. Several Aquascape Centipede Modules and two Snorkels were used in the 70-foot by 50-foot wetlands bog filtration system. 30 Aquascape six-watt LED lights and 30 more three-watt LED lights were installed to give the pond dramatic nighttime visual effects. None of the lights face the home, giving it a resort-like feel.

We also performed enhanced custom features, such as pump lines that all pitch downward and self-drain to a large, concrete underground vault for ease of winter preparation. Two large tones, each 10 feet long, were used for stairs leading down into the beach area. One of these stones had a five-foot-long, raised, cone-like fossil, and the other was the reverse of the same fossil — a very prehistoric custom effect that was made millions of years ago, right in the area! Specialized electrical planning was also done, along with too many other conveniences to list.

Planning and Experience

Should big ponds be built the same as small ponds? The answer is “yes” … if you follow a well-designed system! Of course, the answer is “no” if careful planning isn’t a part of your system and if the ability to overcome large obstacles isn’t on your resume. Experience plays a major role in your ability to complete projects like these in spite of weather conditions and other challenges. The important thing to remember is that little ponds tend to have little problems and big ponds tend to have big problems. Big problems can be very costly and dangerous.

Ponds Inc. has been building ponds for many years following the Aquascape design method, which has resulted in ponds with clear water and happy clientele. So when it came time to design and build this large pond based on the client’s primary objectives, we knew that if we wanted clear water and a trusted method that works, we’d better build it the best way we knew worked.

This pond was designed and built the same way we build a small backyard water feature. We dug multiple shelves, installed drainage and underlayment, placed rocks and gravel over a liner and installed a stream and a wetlands bog filter. This system produces crystal clear water gardens, and this large, one-acre water garden is not any different. Indeed, it’s had crystal clear water for over two years.

This system was perfected by the Aquascape team, and Ponds Inc. of Illinois has installed some of their largest systems and landscapes for them. We knew that their system has worked for them and has proven to work for us. This was how we easily ruled out the option for a pond without a liner, even on a large scale.

Sustainability planning now also plays a major role in all our ponds. We always look at drainage runoff and how it will affect the pond and its ecosystem. For this large project in Galena, we had the local excavator cut channels along the top of the hills where the farm fields were located. This was done to divert the flow of runoff rainwater from rapidly entering the pond through the ravine during a downpour, channeling it instead to flow down the hillsides away from the pond. We also installed a series of rock dams in the ravine to slow the rainwater down and to help filter out contaminants. This is important even for your small ponds. Always be concerned about what flows into your pond.

Natural logs create beautiful waterfalls in this stream.
Natural logs create beautiful waterfalls in this stream.

The Finished Product

The client was extremely pleased with how this project turned out. His family and guests totally enjoy the pond and enjoy coming to the farm! The mission was established with our client in the beginning and we met his primary objectives with an end in mind, using methods that we knew worked. Mission accomplished!

No matter the size of the project, never underestimate a client’s ambitions and always be positive about the outcome. Approach each project that way, and you’ll end up with BIG results every time!

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