MAMMOTH SPRING -- The Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery will soon be the site of a $3 million Visitor and Environmental Education Center. The hatchery currently welcomes around 100,000 visitors each year. The center will be only the second such facility in the entire southeastern United States. The other one is located in Jamestown, Ky.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) received $1.2 million dollars for the Mammoth Spring project through an appropriation sponsored by Sen. Blanche Lincoln in 2005. These funds were to be used for the design of the entire center and construction of phase one of the project. Additional funding from Congress in the amount of $1.75 million was just granted, and will be combined to construct phase two of the project, which includes an environmental education classroom, retail sales space, additional office space, aquariums and interpretive exhibits, and outdoor features such as a display pond, boardwalks and viewing areas. The buildings alone will be over 7,300 square feet.
"We will have something here that the community will be very proud of," said Richard Shelton who serves as the hatchery manager. "And we're really striving to make it a place where people, especially children, can connect with nature," he said.
USFWS will break ground for the center at Mammoth Spring this spring, and expects to open the doors in 2010.
"We are excited," said Shelton, who has been promoting the idea of an environmental education center at Mammoth Spring for more than 15 years. "I'm thrilled that we are this close to making it a reality," he said.
"Selecting a design for the center has been a ground breaking effort. USFWS sponsored its first ever design-build competition for this project. The design-build concept, which awards contracts to firms that design a project that they will also build, can save both time and money. It also eliminates the problem of design bids that can't actually be built within budget," he said
"The project here at Mammoth Spring was an ideal one to use for this competition," said Joey Eldridge, an architect with USFWS who helped coordinate the competition. "We saw a lot of creative designs. And the competing firms had a huge incentive to give us the most for taxpayer money," he said.
Because of this, Shelton said he did not mind being the "guinea pig."
The competition resulted in the selection of a unique design by the Linc Group. The building will incorporate green features such as a vegetable roof, geo-thermal heat source, low VOC interior finishings and solar power, along with an exhibit featuring a large wall aquarium and a wall of windows overlooking the Spring River.
The Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery has produced fish for fishing and for population restoration for over a century. Shelton said the hatchery was built in 1903, set where it is by a nearby railroad needed at that time to move the fish, but more so for the reliable, high-quality, gravity flow water from the world's 10th largest spring.
"With our unique pond and raceway rearing system, the hatchery has the capability to produce a wide variety of fish and other aquatic species," he said.
Shelton said the hatchery maintains the largest captive spawning population of Gulf Coast striped bass in the world. "Biologists here are developing spawning and rearing techniques for paddlefish and lake sturgeon. The endangered alligator gar and Ozark Hellbender salamander, and the alligator snapping turtle," Shelton said.
Cooperating with Arkansas State University, the hatchery assists in nationwide efforts to protect and restore both endangered and non-endangered mussel populations. They accomplish this by developing culture techniques, investigating life histories and providing a refuge for endangered populations.