Manzanita Lake is one of the most iconic landmarks on the University of Nevada, Reno campus. For almost a century, the lake has been the site of public recreation, campus tradition, and a diverse collection of wildlife.
Manzanita Lake was officially dedicated on November 25, 1911. It is a man-made lake, created by damming the Orr irrigation ditch, an agricultural waterway that pre-dated the University. The remnants of the Orr ditch can still be seen at the southern tip of campus. Before the creation of the lake, the area was a small body of water known as Evans Pond, built in 1878 on the Evans ranch, an area which included all of northwest Reno before the University began to purchase the land in 1884.
The filling of the ditch and surrounding ravine were made possible due to the financial assistance of Clarence Mackay, son of Comstock silver baron John Mackay. The walkway separating the bowl from the lake was originally a carved wooden structure which was converted to a concrete walkway in 1937. The conversion of a small pond into a permanent lake increased significantly the presence of water on the campus, while reducing the amount of land available for building construction. This speaks to the strength of the University's commitment to the aesthetic appearance of the campus.
At Manzanita Lake's opening ceremony, Regents J. W. O'Brien and A. A. Codd expressed their wish that the lake be used for sporting activities, such as boating, ice skating, and especially swimming. While those activities are no longer allowed on Manzanita Lake, students have taken every opportunity to enjoy its waters and the surrounding area. As soon as Manzanita Lake was officially opened to the public, it became a coveted destination for outdoor recreation. Every year, when the lake froze, students and community members would put on their skates and head onto the ice. Students also have pursued a variety of activities in the area, including Mackay Day competitions, musical performances, outdoor volleyball matches, and Duck Day.
Since its creation, Manzanita Lake has been home to a variety of birds, including ducks, geese and swans. The regal swans at Manzanita Lake have always been popular attractions, serving as iconic figureheads for the lake. At least two swans are always in residence there.