Week 1: Westhampton Lake – More Than Meets The Eye

Right at the heart of campus lays our very own Westhampton Lake. Every student has walked along its shore or across its body, absorbing its tranquility and beauty. At night, you can always find someone leaning backwards over the ledge of the Commons looking at Upside-down Lake, the phenomenon where, when you look at the lake upside-down, the reflection in the water is so exact that it appears to be real. However, there is more to Westhampton Lake than meets the eye.

Last Wednesday, we took a little field trip to take a closer look at the body of water we thought we knew so well. Our first stop was the inflow of the lake, a slow-flowing river known as Little Westham. From my research this summer, where I surveyed the lake’s outflow for freshwater sponges, I guess I knew that there must have been an inflow. Like many others, however, I never really took the time to look for it. Until now, I have been one of those students who walks past the lake everyday on the way to class and fails to fully appreciate the lake.

Since then I have thought about what else I “know” about the lake. I know it is man-made, once the home to a fantastic amusement park in the early 1900’s. I know it is home to a variety of wildlife – geese and ducks are the obvious, but it is also home to snapping turtles, fish, and one resident blue heron. I know that when there used to be a gate separating the two colleges, guys used to swim across the lake after curfew to meet up with their girlfriends after hours.

What I didn’t know about the lake is that it is also fed by countless pipes and drains that funnel runoff from parking lots and sidewalks directly into the lake. This runoff has no time to be absorbed into the surrounding soil, but instead drags chemicals from fertilizer, oil, fowl feces, and other pollutants into the lake.

What I didn’t know was that our lake has had reports of health concerns for having a substantial amount of E. Coli in its water (at recently as 1995). These health concerns mean that the lake does not meet swimming health standards, hence the ban on swimming in the lake in 1976 (also a little known fact).

What I didn’t know was that our lake is not only a dumping site for silt and sand that comes from upstream, but also apparently for Volkswagens (three of which have been found in the lake over the years), patio furniture, traffic cones, and a plethora of Green Bikes (some of which are still in the lake).

But what surprised me the most was that 4 students have drowned in the lake.

I think a lot of UR students take the lake for granted and don’t take the time to appreciate it and learn more about it. Hopefully during the rest of my time here at UR, I can learn to make the effort to look just a little bit closer, explore areas of campus that I have never seen, and learn as much as I can about the surrounding environment.

For more information, I direct you to these two Collegian articles: Westhampton Lake holds surprising finds (http://thecollegianur.com/2010/02/04/westhampton-lake-holds-surprising-finds/10467/) and Dispelling the myths of Westhampton Lake (http://thecollegianur.com/2011/01/27/dispelling-the-myths-of-westhampton-lake/16832/).

This entry was posted in Westhampton Lake. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Week 1: Westhampton Lake – More Than Meets The Eye

  1. Garrett says:

    Another thing that I didn’t know was that our biggest source of pollution on campus was the golf course. From my research this summer in the outflow of Westhampton Lake, I would have never guessed that the stream that could support such a thriving population of sponges could be so polluted. However, I was also unaware of the efforts by the community to try to reduce the golf course run-off pollution by making Gambles Mill less of an impervious surface. That just goes to show how much of a hidden problem polluted runoff can be and how little those of us on campus are aware of it.

  2. Christopher says:

    Everything a casual reader would want to know about the lake is in this blog posting. It is entertaining to read about the quirky history the Westhampton Lake holds. Also, this post subtly illustrates the importance of human relationships with water and I am also reminded of the connection the lake has to the University of Richmond experience. The more exposed I am to the various aspects of water the more I realize how water ties human beings together. Everyone I meet has some kind of experience with water. The Westhampton Lake connects the past and future generations by sharing in the human experience.

Comments are closed.