By Bridget Lis, Indian Springs Metropark Interpreter
One of the most distinguishable attractions of the Environmental Discovery Center at Indian Springs Metropark is the underwater pond dome. This acrylic dome allows visitors the opportunity to view our human-made Discovery Pond from down below. It facilitates an experience to see aquatic life up close, almost as if you are swimming amongst the plants and animals in the water.
Creation of the pond began in 2002 in concurrence with development of the Environmental Discovery Center. It is 14 feet deep in the middle and has an area of 1.7 acres. When the pond was fully established, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources stocked the freshwater ecosystem with native fish species collected from surrounding lakes. These species include bluegill, pumpkinseed, black crappie, yellow perch, largemouth bass, walleye, and a variety of minnows. An estimated total of 500 fish were brought in to inhabit the pond. The Discovery Pond provides a very healthy wetland habitat for these fish as well as a multitude of insects, waterfowl, turtles, frogs, and even muskrats.
One of the greatest advantages to providing such a unique opportunity to observe nature is the sense of wonderment that is brought about in students visiting our center. When schoolchildren descend to the underground level for the first time and lay eyes upon the water from inside the dome, they experience feelings of awe and fascination.
Upon arrival into the pond level, we see a beautiful reflection reminiscent of light and wind dancing on the water. The whole level has a faint green glow due to the color of the water, providing a magic quality as well. Then we enter the double doors into a tunnel where bluegill are frequently spotted swimming at eye level. If you peek closely, you will notice the rainbow of colors on their scales and fins. And as we reach the dome, we begin to truly feel the vastness of the pond. Only a foot and a half of water separates the top of the dome from the sky, providing great clarity above. One might get the illusion of a fish flying among the clouds as it swims overhead.
Many kids refer to the dome as a “bubble” from which they can see what’s happening in the water without having to dive in and get wet. Kids will ask numerous questions about the flora and fauna in the pond, providing an ideal opportunity to talk about some of the smallest organisms such as phytoplankton, zooplankton, and the algae that we see readily growing on the walls of the dome – a sign of a healthy freshwater ecosystem. In addition to the dome itself, the underground level has a hallway equipped with a series of windows that look out into the pond. From these windows, we can see the underwater landscaping at the bottom, including a great deal of logs and rocks that provide a natural habitat for aquatic life. To point this out to children, we may ask them to look for good “hiding places” for the fish, and they will take notice of some abiotic features of the pond floor.
Metropark Interpreters make sure to tie these underwater observations into our school programs and exploratory field trips. Examples of topics we discuss include water quality, ecosystem components, life cycles, food chains, and the water cycle. With older kids, we will also dive into more advanced subjects such as stratification, seasonal turnover, and eutrophication. When children can visualize what it is like to be in the water and see pond life firsthand, they are more likely to form connections with the material we teach. Bringing about curiosity and appreciation of nature in today’s youth is one of the many ways that the Metroparks promotes stewardship of the environment. We seek to help people establish those meaningful connections, even from an early age. When school children experience that sense of wonder from under the pond, we truly feel that we are meeting our goals.