Legend has it that the duck pond at The University of New Mexico, a popular spot for members of the campus community and local residents to hang out and relax, started as a series of puddles.

“At my new student orientation, my tour guide told me that years and years ago, the duck pond used to be a parking lot that collected a lot of puddles when it rained,” recalled fourth-year undergrad Trinity Moody, who is majoring in Film and Digital Media Arts. “Ducks always flew down to hang out and it was a popular duck spot for a long while. Eventually, planners — and perhaps students? — decided to make the lot a full-fledged pond so that the ducks would have a true designated spot to hang out.”

A great story, but according to an article in a series about the history of the UNM campus, the duck pond was the centerpiece of a mid-1970s landscaping project to provide “an open area for the relaxation and enjoyment of students and faculty.” The project plan included a 210 by 150-foot pond, a waterfall, a footbridge spanning the pond, and “a rolling, mounded grassy area which will serve to deflect foot traffic, and shield people from the wind.”

The area was designed by Garrett Eckbo, who is widely regarded as the father of modern landscape architecture. Eckbo saw landscape design as a vehicle for social change. In his long career, he created outdoor environments for corporations, urban squares, cooperative housing communities, churches, and other college campuses. The duck pond is considered a modernist landscape and Eckbo believed the landscaping was a part of the buildings around it. 

“Such a water area on college and university campuses is nothing but an invitation to trouble...”

1975 letter to the Campus Planning Committee

For the most part, the pond was warmly embraced. But it had its detractors, including one professor who wrote a strongly worded letter in 1975 to the Campus Planning Committee declaring that “such a water area on college and university campuses is nothing but an invitation to trouble,” with “aesthetic pollution,” odors, trash and broken bottles on the bottom, beer cans floating on the top, and “another area of high maintenance for the buildings and ground crews.”

Newly constructed duck pond circa 1975
Newly constructed duck pond circa 1975.

In short, he said, “I strongly recommend that the plans for a lake or pond… be dropped.”

Fortunately, his dire predictions went unheeded, and the pond was installed. Nowadays, it’s a popular place on campus and in the surrounding community to meet, study, picnic, and relax.

“It's a great place for arranging meetings with my crew because it's in the center of campus and everyone crosses paths with it going to and from classes. I sometimes take my lunch there,” Moody said.

Richard Schorr, manager of UNM Grounds & Landscaping, said the area is a favorite part of the campus with families picnicking, people walking their dogs, and students studying.

“It’s a great place to relax, study, or catch a breath from our busy days,” he said. “The ducks provide non-stop entertainment. The turtles can often be seen in the spring traveling to isolated shrub beds to lay eggs and holding up pedestrian and vehicle traffic on the walkways. Water always has a calming effect." 

The predicted trouble is minimal.

“I have fond memories of employees wrestling huge fish and falling in the water when trying to clean the pond, as well as those that slip on the rocks and get drenched. The water is not that pleasant to swim in. We have found all kinds of objects in the water once it’s drained, from skateboards to bikes and computers,” Schorr said.

“It’s a great place to relax, study, or catch a breath from our busy days. The ducks provide non-stop entertainment... Water always has a calming effect."

Richard Schorr, manager of UNM Grounds & Landscaping

Schorr cautioned, “People love to feed the ducks, but feeding them with bread is like feeding candy to children and not that healthy for them.”

It takes a lot of maintenance to keep the pond and the area around it pleasant. The pond is skimmed weekly at minimum. Water use is monitored from the fill line. The mowing and grounds add to the necessary maintenance.

Making friends at the duck pond
Future Lobo makes friends with a pond resident.

The pond is deep-cleaned every two years. The next cleaning will be in 2025.

“This used to be done completely in-house and took the entire staff at grounds a week, and used the biology tanks for the fish,” Schorr said. “Now we have a professional pond company monitor pH, organics, oxygen levels, nutrient load, and clarity, which has improved the quality of the water considerably.”

The professional pond company temporarily relocates the fish and turtles, drains the pond, cleans it, and refills the pond. The old water is used on surrounding landscape. The process still takes about a week and is usually done during spring break, weather willing.

The UNM arborist crew maintains and plants trees in the duck pond area. 

“We have some amazing trees there that are not very common in Albuquerque,” Schorr noted.

Recent legislative funding was obtained to upgrade the furnishings and safety of the pond. With that money crews repaired the surface of the bridge with redwood to make it safer and make it more favorable for ADA access, repaired railings, and added some changes to prevent rotting of the support posts. In addition, Adirondack chairs were placed to partially replace eight potentially dangerous benches. Six new benches are on order to replace them. 

With the weather getting warmer, it’s an excellent time to walk, bike, skateboard, or scooter over to the pond to enjoy the spring blooms, bask in the sun, chat, study, take Instagrammable photos, have a picnic, and, of course, watch the pond’s favorite residents, the ducks.