The Ponds were developed in 1997 as a gift-in-kind valued at nearly $600,000 from the Illinois Land Improvement Contractors Association, whose members volunteered 72 working days to dig the three ponds in the 160-acre UI Arboretum. Donors include Birkey’s Construction Equipment, Capitol Machinery, Champaign Asphalt Co., Kuntz Equipment Co., Roland Machinery, Co., and GROWMARK.
Following recommendations by students in NRES 420 Restoration Ecology, arboretum staff cleared the pond banks and shallows of invasive shrubs, trees, and cattails during late summer 2007. Follow-up cattail treatment was made during summer of 2008. Once the majority of the cattails were controlled, the small east pond was graded and then seeded and plugged with native prairie and wetland species.
In 2010, a portion of the Dr. Frank W. Kari Fund was designated to support the University of Illinois Arboretum. The gift on behalf of Dr. Kari (1951–2007) was used to construct a sidewalk around the perimeter of the ponds. In addition to the walkway, which measures about 1/3 of a mile per loop, the gift was used to further enhance the ponds, install native plants and trees adjacent to the ponds, and install benches and educational signage along the walkway. A portion of the endowment was reserved to care for the plants, signs, and walkway.
Work on the ponds involved removing invasive plants and cattails, grading and mulching the banks, planting new beds along the banks, and installing over 26,000 plantings. The plantings included a variety of native submergent and upland, or prairie, plants.
The Dr. Frank W. Kari Walkway and Ponds Restoration Project provides a look at various types of native plant communities found in Illinois. The ponds are planted with individual species of forbs, grasses, sedge, and rushes common to wetland and prairie communities.