NEWCASTLE -- Black Elk Pond sits a little more than half-full right now, water slowly rising by gallons each minute. It’s been almost 20 years in the making. But now, nearly every step has been completed from the dead pine trees anchored to the bottom for habitat to the pilings for handicapped-accessible fishing piers.
In the spring the Wyoming Game and Fish Department will fill it full of large mouth bass, crappie and sunfish for anglers of any age to catch.
It may seem minor, a 1.6-acre public pond on a golf course in a rural Wyoming town, but its completion marks one more step toward the department’s legacy goals.
“Our chief of fisheries several years ago asked us for legacy items. With unlimited funding, unlimited time what could we come up with, and one thing was a community fishery in every town,” said Paul Mavrakis, the Game and Fish’s Sheridan regional fisheries supervisor. “Newcastle was the biggest remaining town (in northeast Wyoming) that didn’t have a community fishing pond.”
Community fishing ponds are often a child’s first exposure to catching a slimy, wriggling creature from the deep, he said. They’re where preteens and teens ride their bikes in the summer to spend the day outside; and they’re where the elderly or wheelchair-bound can go for their own slice of nature.
They’re also one more way to make a town a community, said James Runyan, president and principal of Black Elk Refining.
Runyan operates the oil refinery in Newcastle, and it’s the refinery’s water filling up the pond.
“We live and work here in the town,” he said. “I have kids, too. I have three boys. There’s a limited number of stuff to do here in Newcastle.”
But the idea started long before Black Elk Refining bought the refinery in 2011. Culver has been thinking about it for almost two decades when he worked as a district conservationist for the Natural Resource Conservation Service.
Someone told him the refinery had a Madison Aquifer well it wasn’t using much. The previous owners weren’t interested, so Culver waited.
The Madison well is an artisan spring flow that comes from deep underneath the refinery. It is pure water, the same source as the city of Newcastle uses, but the refinery didn’t need it, Culver said.
Once Culver joined the Game and Fish Commission, he started talking to Runyan.
“I really wanted local people to have a place in town or close to town to fish,” Culver said. “It will be nice for senior citizens and kids.”
Then the Wyoming Wildlife and Natural Resource Trust provided $130,000, covering much of the costs.
For Christie Wornkey, a board member of the country club where the pond is located, the decision was easy. It will be an asset to the club and to the community, she said.
“The property that the pond went into was a marsh area, it wasn’t ever used,” she said. “It is nice to see that it is on the property and now has a purpose.”
The pond should be filled with water by early December. The Game and Fish already stocked fathead minnows to build a food base. By spring, they will stock adult-sized bass, crappie and sunfish to give anyone, from 3-year-olds with their first fishing poles to 100-year-olds with their last ones, a place to catch a fish.