“Pond Stars” (L to R) Chris Hanson, Greg Wittstock, Brian Helfrich and Ed Beaulieu (Photo courtesy Nat Geo Wild)
Four guys from suburban Chicago are proud to be “Pond Stars.”
Their new TV series debuts at 9 p.m. Tuesday on Nat Geo Wild.
It follows a team of water gardening experts from west suburban-based Aquascape as they create everything from backyard koi ponds and waterfalls to revamped wildlife habitats for wolves and birds at Lincoln Park Zoo.
“We’re artists — with rock and water,” said Aquascape CEO Greg Wittstock, an extrovert who turned his deep-rooted love of turtles into a successful business that employs 110 people at a 250,000-square-foot facility in St. Charles.
We’ll get back to the turtle thing in a minute. First, meet the pond stars: Wittstock is a former state championship football player at Wheaton North High School who now lives with his wife, two sons and nearly 100 turtles in Wayne.
Ed Beaulieu of Sugar Grove is the cerebral scientist of the bunch.
Brian Helfrich of Downers Grove is the foreman who oversees construction.
Warrenville’s Chris Hanson is the rookie and comic relief.
“We needed a heel on the show,” Wittstock said about Hanson during a screening last week at Lincoln Park Zoo.
The Chicago institution is the setting for one of the six, hour-long episodes that make up the first season of “Pond Stars,” the latest reality show to jump on the pun bandwagon, a la “Pawn Stars” and “Hardcore Pawn.”
The series’ G-rated action largely takes place in the Chicago area, with half of Aquascape’s featured projects being based in the city and suburbs. Other segments have the team building a healing garden for a cancer survivor in California, a 30-foot pond with an underwater camera for arena football team owner Larry Payne in Florida and a sanctuary for rescued turtles in Atlanta.
Which brings me back to the turtles.
When Wittstock was 12 years old, his family moved from New Jersey to Wheaton.
“My parents promised me I could bring 11 of my favorite pet turtles with me and build a home in the backyard for them,” said Wittstock, who made the long drive in the back seat with his beloved pets sloshing around in their tanks.
“Our second day in Wheaton I started digging a hole to build the pond,” he said.
The pond leaked. It turned a weird shade of green. The turtles took off. Wittstock wasn’t deterred.
“For seven years I ripped up that pond and rebuilt it,” he said. “One day the UPS guy delivered a package and said, ‘This is really beautiful.’ That’s when I thought there’s got to be a business here.”
Now known as The Pond Guy (he trademarked the name), Wittstock began building similar water features during his summer breaks from Ohio State University. The business took off —and it took Wittstock six years to graduate college as a result. But he’d found his calling. Aquascape bills itself as the largest supplier of professional and DIY water feature products in the world.
The TV series came about after a TV producer in Hollywood stumbled across Aquascape’s YouTube channel while shopping for aquatic plants for her own pond.
“We actually made two other pilots before that never went anywhere after production,” Wittstock said. “Third time’s a charm.”