South Charlotte

Creating tranquility in I-485's shadow

More than 12 years ago, Darrell and Sharon Skoff moved into one of the first few homes in northwest Union County's Shannamara neighborhood.

“We were the seventh or eighth house out here,” Sharon says. There were many empty lots nearby and no I-485.

Once the interstate came, the Skoffs could hear the traffic. Some people might have thrown in the towel – conceding that their quiet rural oasis was gone. Not the Skoffs.

The couple – they work for US Airways – built a pond with a waterfall in their backyard to drown the noise. They positioned it for viewing from their breakfast room.

But that was just the beginning.

All but one of the first fish in the pond died quickly. Darrell, a pilot, did some research and discovered that the ecosystem didn't balance and that small ponds can become toxic quickly. “It's been a learning experience,” he says.

So they added a taller waterfall, which expanded the trickling pond to 450 gallons.

The water is tested monthly to maintain proper pH and salt levels, and to watch for ammonia. Now, large goldfish and exotic-looking shubunkins (goldfish with patches of color) thrive, along with eight baby fish in the pond's depths.

Sharon names the fish and points to them as she offers their daily “Koi-balance” food.

“They're like little piranhas” at feeding time, she says, as they all rush to the surface of the water.

Darrell believes they recognize the sound of Sharon's voice. One fish is blind and swims along the bottom to gather scraps of food. A large bullfrog occasionally visits and Sharon usually has to rescue him from the skimmer where he gets caught.

A fake heron and a decoy fish discourage large predatory birds, including a real heron that hovers over their yard. Water lilies, water lettuce, irises and hibiscus grow prolifically in and around the pond. A hammock rests between two trees alongside.

An old hickory tree seems to stand guard over the pond and hammock. When the pond was built four years ago, pond builders Dreamscapes were careful not to disturb the hickory's roots.

“My favorite thing to do is to take a book and read in the hammock,” says Sharon, a flight attendant.

Feeders and baths are scattered around the yard to attract a variety of birds.

“There's my woodpecker,” Sharon notices. She says that while reading in the hammock recently, she watched as a mother red-headed woodpecker showed her baby where birdseed could be found. Cedar waxwings frequent feeders in the fall. But birds aren't the only visitors to this wildlife haven.

All types of wildlife are attracted to the tranquil backyard and pond. Foxes used to show up before the neighborhood was developed. Possums, rabbits and squirrels still gravitate to ground-level feeders with corn on the cob set.

Skamper, the Skoff's cat rescued from an animal shelter, is no risk to the wildlife. He had been de-clawed so is mostly a housecat. He visits the yard contentedly on a leash.

The couple also enjoy the yard's hot tub and deck. Darrell and a friend built a two-seater swing tucked away in the back of the yard. And Darrell built a fire pit from a truck tire rim surrounded with stone. Sharon hosted her book club recently and the group had their discussion sitting around the fire pit instead of indoors.

“I thought with 485 all the serenity was gone,” Sharon says. “Now some of it's back.”