WILLIAMS BAY — Once frogs were abundant on the west end of Geneva Lake.
Now, frogs and toads are rare.
And that is not a good sign.
Tom Nickols, vice president of the Geneva Lake Conservancy board, said amphibian populations are a leading indicator of an area’s ecological well being.
“If amphibians aren’t doing well,” Nickols said, “there are problems in an area’s environmental health.”
The conservancy celebrated the grand opening July 5 of an amphibian pond at the Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park, 251 Elkhorn Road, adjacent to the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy.
The new pond is designed not only to promote frog populations locally, but also to teach kids about the importance of amphibians.
Has the pond been a success?
The answer was on the ground all around the 100 or so people who came to witness the pond’s opening. American toads, each smaller in diameter than a dime, could be seen jumping around the gravel parking area near the fishing park’s main building.
Larger amphibians were on display in the fishing park’s main building.
There, Deb Krohn of Gurnee, Illinois, also known as the Frog Lady, showed the various live frogs, lizards and snakes in her traveling menagerie.
She explained that, while some of them might seem creepy, most amphibians and reptiles, including snakes, are beneficial because they feed on insect and rodent pests.
The five-acre Helen Rohner Children’s Fishing Park was created by the Geneva Lake Conservancy after Jack Rohner donated the land and funding for the fishing park.
The park, which opened last summer, was named in honor of Rohner’s late wife, who loved the Lake Geneva area.
Rohner was at the grand opening ceremonies for the amphibian pond. He was named an official member of the Lake Geneva Fishing Club, which gives kids free fishing lessons at the park on Tuesdays through Aug. 20.
Bob Kenton, a representative of the fishing club, presented Rohner with a Lake Geneva Fishing Club jacket.
Karen Yancey, director of the Geneva Lake Conservancy director, said that last year, Josh Skolnick, a Williams Bay landscape designer and land conservationist, came to the conservancy with a proposal to create a frog pond on the fishing park grounds.
The shallow pond was dug out of the park marshland.
By scraping the bottom layer of the pond, officials exposed seeds from native species plants that started to grow, attracting native amphibious species to the pond.
The pond was completed March 11, but the amphibians were already moving in.
“They just moved in on their own,” Yancey said. “If you build it, they will come.”
Nickols called the pond a “Ritz-Carlton” for frogs, because of the ideal living conditions.
As part of the pond project, the conservancy built a 600-foot-long walkway through the marshland to the pond.
Rohner and the Williams Bay Lions Club provided donations toward the $50,000 project, Yancey said.
Since the pond and path were completed in March, classes from surrounding schools have visited.
“It’s a great experience for them to learn about the nature of frogs and amphibians. It’s been a really fun project,” Yancey said.
Skolnick said it has been his dream to create a pond for all amphibians, especially for Wisconsin native frogs, which include the leopard frog, the tree frog, bull frogs, chorus frogs and American toads.
Shallow wetlands in the area — the habitat for frogs and other amphibians — have been all but wiped out by development, he said.
The new pond is 4½ feet deep at its deepest. Skolnick said the pond should not be any deeper or it will become attractive to fish. And fish feed on amphibians.
“It’s beautiful,” Rohner said of the frog pond. “I’m quite impressed. When I was a boy, I used to catch them. Now that I’m 96, I don’t catch them anymore. They’re too fast for me.”
Rohner said he isn’t an expert on amphibians, yet.
“I’m still learning about them,” he said.