Teichert Ponds: The Accidental Wetland

By Jon Aull

PondTurtle_Hatchling_newOne of Chico’s best kept secrets, Teichert Ponds is a refuge for wildlife, an island of habitat in a sea of urban traffic.

Although considered by some to be an eyesore and a wasteland, these ponds host some of Chico’s most interesting wild inhabitants. The ponds are sandwiched between the mall and Little Chico Creek. Many of us have seen the ponds from the freeway between the 20th St. and Highway 32 exits while zooming by at 60 mph, but few have visited them.

The three ponds were created in 1965 by Woodland’s Teichert Construction Company while mining gravel for the construction of the 99 freeway through Bidwell Park.

As they dug deeper into the water table, the largest gravel pit began to fill with water. In 1999, the City of Chico took possession of most of the area in exchange for developer fees. Currently, it serves as a detention area for the runoff from the development around the mall. Now all three pits are flooded year round.

wood-duck_newThough created unintentionally, the ponds now serve multiple uses.

They act as a sponge to slow down water before it drains into Little Chico Creek, preventing erosion and decreasing the chance of flooding. Chemical runoff settles in the ponds and is partly absorbed by aquatic plants, as a natural water treatment system. The ponds also serve as a home for many beautiful forms of wildlife. Not least among the geese, herons and songbirds that frequent the area are the resident wood ducks. Possibly the most beautiful of all waterfowl, wood ducks look as if they have been painted with a palette of iridescent greens, blues, and purples. They nest in tree hollows 30-50 feet above the ground. After hatching, the mothers coax the young out of the nest. The babies plunge 50 feet to the ground, their fall broken by their thick, soft downy feathers. Ducks and other waterfowl are precocial at birth, which means they are ready to feed themselves as soon as they are born, and can swim around following their mother, depending on her for protection.

Beaver_newIf you’re lucky, you may see a beaver in one of the ponds.

Beavers are mostly active at night, so they are rarely seen. However, there is a beaver lodge in the middle of the ponds as well as some dens dug into the bank. Beavers are rodents, the largest in North America, as you can tell from their massive incisors. They have valves that close their ears and nose to keep the water out when they dive. They also have clear eyelids that protect their eyes while allowing them to see under water, kind of like goggles. If you’re lucky enough to see a beaver, and he sees you, you may get a loud slap of the tail on the water before he dives under (a warning to you and other beavers). He may stay under water for as long as 10 minutes and swim half a mile, a pretty good disappearing act. Beavers played an important role in the exploration of North America, as the first Europeans came here for beavers’ thick, warm fur. The fur traders made a lot of money off of beaver fur, in the process leaving only about 5% of the beavers. So it’s exciting to see these creatures making a comeback and moving into our neighborhoods.

cormorant_newTeichert Ponds are Chico’s own wetlands, and you never know who of the millions of migratory wildfowl that come through this area each year may be using it for a rest stop.

Like much of our National Wildlife Refuge system, they are wetlands that have been created by people, replacing wetlands that can no longer form due to the dams and diverted waterflows in California and elsewhere. Although the ponds may have been created by accident, they provide a valuable habitat for all kinds of wetland inhabitants who depend on them. With 90% of the original wetland habitat of California gone, the ponds are something to treasure. So visit Chico’s accidental wetlands and discover what has been called “Chico’s other treasure.”