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Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Mammoth Spring Fish Hatchery gaining friends

Sunday, August 14, 2011

At any given time all across America, there are hordes of campers staying at state parks for weeks at a time without buying a camping permit.

Mammoth Spring National Fish Hatchery is making way for the campers to stay at the fishery, too.

But, there is a catch to the stay-without-pay practice.

An artist's model shows parts of the planned Aquatic Conservation and Education Center to be built at the Mammoth Spring Fish Hatchery. [Order this photo]
In exchange for the free camping site, electricity and other amenities, the campers volunteer at the parks, usually for at least a month at a time, but no more than three months at once.

With construction started on an Aquatic Conservation and Education Center at the hatchery, Manager Richard Shelton said the site will need volunteers to help with the new 7,000-square-foot facility, which was planned around potential volunteer labor.

Shelton said the hatchery is planning on building four recreational vehicle pads near the existing office, which is in a private area a short distance from the under-construction education center.

Volunteers find out about state park camping opportunities through groups such as Happy Vagabonds, an online volunteer-posting site.

"There is a lot of retired talent out there driving around in those RVs," Shelton said. "It's surprising how many people just like to give their labor."

A 1960s house next to the hatchery office is now being remodeled by workers for the Poplar Bluff construction company building the hatchery. In exchange for a place to stay, the workers are replacing doors, windows and flooring, and making other improvements.

Shelton said the hatchery will use the house to board interns who come to work at the hatchery. It also will serve as a recreational gathering area for RV volunteers, complete with a TV area, kitchen and laundry room.

Friends of the Hatchery

Local efforts are also under way to form a friends group to help run the gift shop, clean the building (including stock tanks) and raise money to support it.

Late in July, Shelton, assistant hatchery manager Dwayne French, education and outreach biologist Sara Seagraves, aquatic exhibit designer Greg Morrow and Judy Toppins, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service regional outreach coordinator - fisheries, of the service's Atlanta, Ga., office, held a community meeting to gauge interest in forming a friends group for the Mammoth Spring hatchery.

Although only six residents attended the meeting at Simmons Bank in Mammoth Spring, they cast a net among others who may by interested in such a venture.

Just days after the initial meeting, attendees had rounded up five residents who agreed to serve on a Friends of the Hatchery board if needed.

Hatchery friends and RV-camping volunteers will be able to assist in a variety of ways, whether its inside the facility assisting visitors, helping to maintain the grounds or even cleaning the numerous fish tanks and displays.

Shelton said the $3.8 million education center will be a large draw to the already-popular vacation destination.

"We're spending a huge chunk of our money on exhibits," Shelton said.

Funded mainly by federal stimulus money, the budget does not include additional staff. The funds are mainly for "brick and mortar."

The hatchery broke ground on the facility in March, which is projected to be complete by spring 2012. The hatchery has five employees.

When complete, the site will have indoor and outdoor classrooms, offices, meeting rooms, a gift shop and large exhibit hall.

Educational opportunities

Seagraves, who joined the hatchery full time this year, after being a college intern there several years ago, looks forward to having a hands-on, outdoor classroom to teach children about nature.

"I'm excited about doing things with the kids in the riverbed," Seagraves said. "Hopefully, they will pull some juvenile dragonflies out of the river with their nets."

Shelton said school districts have a difficult time now affording field trips, which must be justified as educational. A class trip to the new center will easily fit the bill, he said.

"It will be a valuable experience, and it gets kids outside," Shelton said.

The hatchery, one of the oldest in the United States, now attracts thousands of visitors annually from around the world.

The hatchery is seeking old photos and artifacts that residents may have of the hatchery, which was built in 1903.

Seagraves said the hatchery hopes to display the items in the new center, which is expected to draw visitors from around the country.

Anyone interested in forming a nonprofit friends group is encouraged to attend a meeting Sept. 27.

A time and place has not yet been set.

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