POMEROY — When one thinks of Mulberry Community Pond, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to not think of Jim Smith, the man who can be seen at all hours of the day feeding the animals along the edge of the water.
However, as of Aug. 1, residents will see less of Jim, who moved to Columbus after an 11-year legacy in Meigs County.
Smith grew up in Meigs County and lived there until 1969, when he moved to Columbus. He made his way back to the Ohio Valley in 2004, and it was then that he became involved with the pond.
He learned about the pond while attending an event at the Maples apartment complex. That’s when he expressed his concern about the state of the pond to former Mayor John Musser, who informed him that the village had cleaned the pond once but didn’t have the resources to keep treating it.
“I did it free of charge,” Smith said.
He took it upon himself to clean out the large amount of brush and overgrowth in the back part of the pond that was causing the culvert to dam up and create green slime. Smith said he also received help from the Gallia-Meigs Community Action Agency, who helped cut down the trees that were causing blockage problems.
“I waited until the next time it rained, and I could just see the green slime going down that drain,” he said. “I got rid of it and it’s never come back. Just cleaning that up got rid of the green slime.”
Thanks for former Mayor Musser, the pond received its first grant from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. The pond received a 70-30, which meant that if the village did 30 percent of the work that would count toward the village’s portion of the grant. Village workers were able to cut all shrubbery on the bank near Beech Grove Cemetery. The pond itself used to be known as Beech Grove Cemetery Pond, but has come to be known as Mulberry Pond thanks to Smith.
Charlene Hoeflich, former editor of the Pomeroy Daily Sentinel, said the pond brought her and Smith close thanks to her coverage of stories about the area.
“It will be difficult to find anyone who has the interest in or the time to devote to taking care of the Mulberry pond and park area like he did,” she said. “Jim did much of the work along with volunteers he sought, solicited funding grants for needed improvements, asked organizations for contributions and seemed never to tire of working to make the place where he fished as a boy a place where today others can enjoy. He deserves a vote of thanks from the community.”
Along with providing fun for families, the donations from local businesses allowed the pond to hold an event called God’s NET, a local fishing tournament for children. One of the donations came from Smith himself, who found two bicycles and, after cleaning them, brought them as prizes to the competition. There he met two young girls who said they’d walked quite a ways from home to see the competition. They went home with two new bikes — the first bikes the girls ever owned.
“When you hear they don’t have a bicycle — everybody has a bicycle,” he said. “This is a poor county and these kids don’t have a recreation center. They like to fish, to come up to this pond, and that’s why I wanted to get it fixed up for them.”
Smith said he also held local events for nursing home patients as well, which gives them a chance to get outside more often and into nature.
For the next few years, the ODNR grants helped to keep the pond in good condition. Smith also began writing letters to area businesses and politicians, hoping for grant money or donations to keep the pond in check. To this day, Smith is proud to say that no pond additions or upkeep have come at the expense of the taxpayer. Smith has even sent letters to former Gov. Ted Strickland and current Gov. John Kasich. Once Strickland’s office acquired Smith’s letter, they sent it on to ODNR, which started the years-long process of ODNR grants for the pond.
Since its cleanup, Smith has helped add a gravel pathway, benches and picnic tables on which patrons can sit. They were created or restored by local student organizations and schools, along with a wheelchair turnabout. The work was completed by a Logan County contractor between May and July of last year.
Along with helping the animals at the pond, Smith is passionate about the people the pond has helped. He recounted one of the first times he encountered a family at the pond after the cleanup. On an Easter Sunday years ago, Smith said he was at the pond when a man, a woman and two children got out of a van and commented to Smith that the pond was nice, and that they even planned to cook food on the grill provided at the pond. Smith said he never told them his involvement with the pond.
Smith also spoke about a handicapped boy attempting to get to the pond to fish. After Smith helped him, the boy was able to catch a fish after only 10 minutes. Lastly, Smith told the story of two parents who came to him and said that because he had cleaned up the pond, their two sons, whose grades were dropping and were having a hard time at home, had become better students and were having an easier time because the pond gave them something to do — fish.
“That makes it worthwhile, knowing that you helped somebody out like that,” he said. “Maybe it changed those kids’ lives forever. Maybe it was a big relief to those parents.”
In Smith’s absence, the animals at the pond will be fed by Janet Cleland, who comes to the pond in the mornings and evenings to provide the critters with food. He said he’s also researching how to keep a heated pool by the pond in winter so that the ducks will have a place to swim, as the pond freezes easily.
About three weeks ago, Smith said he also sent out another batch of letters asking for help with pond funds with the help of Whitney Thoene of the Meigs County Chamber of Commerce, Brenda Roush of the Meigs County Economic Development Office, Judge Scott Powell, Pomeroy Mayor Jackie Welker, former Mayor Musser and others. The last time he checked, Smith said he had $1,000 in a Mulberry Pond account that’s a part of Pomeroy Parks and Recreation. Future projects include repairing warped wood and cutting down a dead tree looming over the turnabout.
In the future, Smith would like to see the gravel pathway extended and to see a bridge across the back of the pond so that visitors can see its full beauty.
While Smith said he’s moving, he hopes to be back every two months to visit friends and his pond.
“I’m hoping a lot of people (will) make sure it’s taken care of,” Smith said.
Reach Lindsay Kriz at 740-992-2155 EXT. 2555.