Many kids wish they had a fishing-hole just a bike ride from their back door. That wish is a reality for kids in a few communities around the state, thanks to Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks' new Community Ponds Program.
Communities that have taken advantage of this new program include Whitehall, Hamilton, Missoula, Lewistown and, most recently, Great Falls.
Many Montana towns have a river or stream running through them, or water running near the city limits. But, stream fishing can be difficult and intimidating for young children. These waters are also dangerous to youngsters when swelled by spring runoff.
Ponds offer a safer, more manageable environment for youngsters' first angling experiences and they can be stocked with fish readily attracted to bait.
Life-long anglers are often the result of a parent, relative or friend giving a child a fishing pole, bobber, hook and worm and helping them find the nearest pond.
The Community Pond Program has provided funding since 2003 for the design, construction, repair, and enhancement of community fishing ponds to serve families and young anglers and as places to teach angling skills to those of all ages.
Enhancements to existing ponds are also eligible for funding, for example to improve access and safety.
The Jefferson Valley Sportsmen Association shepherded the Piedmont Pond project in Whitehall. They started from scratch. A local gravel contractor donated the property and excavated the pond. The JVSA supplemented the FWP community ponds grant dollars with other state, federal, and private grants. Volunteers donated their time to finish the project, including a parking lot, restroom facilities, picnic areas and a gravel trail encircling the pond. Future work will involve paving the parking lot and constructing a handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
“It is not uncommon to see 20-30 anglers, mostly kids, using the pond on a given Saturday,” said Whitehall resident Joe Dillon. He believes the pond area could also offer hiking and birding and hopes that additional interpretative signs will be added in time.
In Hamilton, the city and local Trout Unlimited Chapter improved access to Hieronymus Pond and installed a water-management device. The City of Missoula improved the Silver Lagoon in McCormick Park by deepening the pond, installing a clay liner for increased water retention, and an island bridge for additional access.
Projects in Lewistown and Great Falls are in the planning stages and will improve water retention at Carter's Ponds and handicapped access to Wadsworth Pond, respectively.
For more on how to apply for community pond funds, go to the FWP web site at fwp.mt.gov and look on the Habitat page for the Pond Program fact sheet and grant application form. Or, call FWP at: 406-444-2449.
Applications are accepted annually and must be submitted no later than February 1. All applicants are encouraged to work with their local Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Fishery Biologist on planning the project.