Mammoth Spring Mayor Jean Pace, who was credited by many as a major force in netting funds for the project, called the hatchery "an economic boon" for the area (the city's No. 1 industry), bringing in visitors from around the world.
Established in 1903 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hatchery is among the oldest in the nation. By next year, the hatchery should have completed one of the most energy-efficient buildings ever built by the wildlife service, hatchery manager Richard Shelton said.
Twenty-two local public officials, school administrators, legislators and state park representatives lined up to turn over the first spades of soil for the building -- an aquatic conservation and education center.
Funded by federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act money, the center will include an environmental education classroom, a small retail store, office space, fish habitat displays and interpretive exhibits and outdoor features, such as a display pond and viewing areas.
Shelton said Mammoth Spring hatchery workers -- all five of them -- are proud of the center plans, which could achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) silver certification for the proposed building's energy-efficient construction and systems.
"This building will be the bricks-and-mortar embodiment of our conservation mission," Shelton said.
The center will feature energy-efficient mechanical and electrical systems, recycled and locally available building materials, storm-water capture and native plantings. Some materials for the new building will even be salvaged from the existing building, which will be razed, Shelton said.
Guest speakers at the event included Mammoth Spring School District Superintendent David Turnbough, who worked at the hatchery as a teen. Turnbough said he learned many valuable lessons while working at the hatchery and is now thankful for what the facility gives back to the schools.
Linda Kelsey, assistant regional director of fishers with the national fish and wildlife service, said the agency has for the past 140 years had a "mission of love to protect fish and plants."
Kelsey said the ground-breaking is a "very proud moment" for all who work in conservation fields.
Representing U. S. Congressman Rick Crawford, Andrea Allen read a letter, stating that the value of the hatchery "can't be measured in financial terms."
Also reading from a letter, Russell Hall, representing Sen. Mark Pryor, said the project is another example of how federal funds maintain the economic vitality of an area.
Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery is one of three national fish hatcheries in Arkansas, which are responsible for a total economic impact of $160.7 million and 1,765 jobs through their recreational fish production and stocking efforts.
The Mammoth Spring hatchery produces 400,000 walleye and 100,000 smallmouth bass and 100,000 largemouth bass and/or bluegill each year.
The site also produces 40,000 paddlefish and 2,500 sturgeon annually. About 5,000 mussels are produced for research and supplemental stocking.
The hatchery now has an aquarium, restrooms, a culture building, rearing ponds and a raceway area for holding fish.
In 2002, local residents initiated a letter-writing campaign, seeking government financial help to build a new center. In 2003, the hatchery began planning the facility, which was then stepped up with the federal stimulus award in 2005.
Shelton said hundreds of local youngsters tour the facility each year.
Two rows of Mammoth Spring Elementary School students sat on the grass in front of the speakers, while other guests filled rows of chairs under the tent.
Model scales on a table in back showed what the new indoor and outdoor educational classrooms will look like.
Visitors were treated to cake after the ceremony and went home with small wildflower seed mats shaped like a fish.
The Aquatic Conservation and Education Center will be built at 302 Fish Hatchery Lane in Mammoth Spring. For more information, go to www.fws.gov/southeast.