North Shields Ponds Natural Area Site Description

The Colorado Water Trust’s efforts to remove the Josh Ames Diversion Dam from the Cache la Poudre River are part of a larger project. The City of Fort Collins is working to restore the North Shields Ponds Natural Area. Here is a description of the North Shields Ponds Natural Area Site from the City of Fort Collins’ Cache la Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan Update, page 101.

“North Shields Ponds Natural Area is located on the west side of Shields Street and occupies 53.8 acres. This includes the 43.8 acres formerly called Sterling which has a 100-year lease from the Poudre School District and is managed and maintained by the Natural Areas Program. The legacy of gravel mining is evident by the two gravel ponds and unusually steep riverbanks created to prevent floodwater exchange between the ponds and the river. Aerial photos suggest the ponds came into existence between 1956 and 1969. Previously, the site was open grass with standing trees. By 1969, housing developments north of the eastern pond appeared. West of the eastern pond, an old diversion structure stood where the Josh Ames Irrigation Ditch flowed through the property. The ditch is reported to have been partially filled around 1980. Similarly, area residents report that a spring existed at the west edge of the eastern pond with peak flows two to four feet wide. Presumably, when gravel operations resumed on adjacent property around 1990 the spring was filled with gravel.

“Ecologically, the area supports a narrow band of cottonwood forest, non-native grasslands, and some emergent wetland habitat created by the naturalization of the eastern pond. The northwest corner of the western pond (Sterling Pond) supports a young but vigorous cottonwood forest that was created when the gravel pond was partially filled by the mining company post mining in the mid 1080s. In 2010, the forest was cleared of all invasive Russian olive trees. North Shields Ponds supports significant wildlife use and movement. The two ponds and associated diversity of shallow water habitats support a variety of birds, small mammals, and amphibians. Sterling Pond is unique as it is one of few ponds in the natural areas system that remains free of carp, a nonnative fish that destroys habitat and consumes resources important for other aquatic wildlife. As larger wildlife (deer for example) move down the Poudre River corridor this reach (from Overland Trail to Shields Street) provides the last semi-rural habitat before wildlife are challenged by multiple physical barriers and the urban core of downtown Fort Collins.”

Cache la Poudre River Natural Areas Management Plan Update