Although most mill ponds are no longer equipped with functioning mills, many of these impoundments live on as recreational areas or wildlife habitats. In rare cases, the old mills have been restored and put to use as museums, landmarks, parks, stores, inns or other facilities. A few mills even remain in operation, producing artisan flours, cornmeal or other goods.
A critical component of water powered mills is the pond itself. Created by damming small creeks or streams, these impoundments became important resources for humans as well as wildlife.
Mill ponds are typically populated with freshwater fish. Species of fish that occupy mill ponds tend to vary with the region. In the east, bass, sunfish, crappie, catfish, suckers, pickerel and other fish are common. In western areas, members of the trout family are more common, especially in ponds that are fed by mountain streams.
In addition to freshwater fish species, mill ponds are usually home to a variety of North American wildlife. Ducks and geese often take up residence, raising their young on these small but important bodies of water.
River otters often frequent mill ponds, feasting on fish, crayfish and freshwater mussels. Other aquatic mammals may include beavers, muskrats, raccoons, oppossums, or other species.
Mill ponds are also critical sources of water for upland and woodland wildlife such as deer, elk, coyotes, and others.
The role of mill ponds in agriculture and livestock production is also well known. Across North America, mill ponds have been important watering holes for livestock since colonial times. Modern farmers also use these reservoirs as a source of water for crop irrigation.