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NTLC fishing for its future in Preston


Thu, Jan 26th, 2012
Posted in All Progress Edition

Some educational items for the fly fisherman at the National Trout Learning Center.Photo by Karen Reisner

With a fairly successful first year of operation at its temporary location, the National Trout Learning Center is on a steady course toward development. Steering Committee co-chair George Spangler suggests it may take a decade to fully develop the center. He pointed to other similar ventures including the National Eagle Center at Wabasha, International Wolf Center at Ely, and Eagle Bluff Environmental Learning Center near Lanesboro and the long road they traveled to get established. At the beginning a new venture is preoccupied with fund raising. For the most part the committee is following the highly successful business plan of the National Eagle Center.

When the permanent facility is built, it will most likely be funded through a capital campaign combined with state and federal funding. The EDA is regularly scanning request for proposals (RFP's), and continually looking for grants that would apply to this venture. Rep. Greg Davids, according to his website, has authored a bill (HF0028) and recently referred it to the Environment, Energy and Natural Resources Policy and Finance Committee for the authorization and issuance of state bonds to acquire land for and to predesign, design, construct, furnish and equip the NTLC. There have been no hearings or committee action at this point and there is not yet a companion bill in the Senate.

This last year the NTLC worked on a shoestring budget and attracted about 700 visitors. Visitors the first year were mostly from the tri-state area with a portion from all over the country. Many visitors were well wishes expressing their encouragement and desire for the center to succeed. Spangler was very pleased with last season's summer interns and volunteer help. The learning center is tasked with educating the public on the environmental sensitivity of the driftless area as well asproviding workshops and education on trout biology, stream ecology, and trout fishing techniques. The center showcases area assets and educates toward the preservation of those assets. Last summer the center offered free fly tying and fly casting lessons. Kay Spangler reminisced about a young boy who, after a few lessons at the center, was delighted when he caught his first trout in Preston.

Recently, the center had a booth at the 41st annual sportsmen's show in St. Paul.

Mr. Spangler pointed out that the center will augment businesses in the area that sell retail fishing supplies. The center will not be in competition with those businesses. The intention is to provide an attraction that should help protect the businesses.

The steering committee is in the process of hiring a half-time Program Coordinator and Operations Manager. Mr. Spangler suggests there will be enough work for a full-time position, but only funds to pay for the half-time position. The position will soon be filled as the pool of applicants has been narrowed to three. One of the duties for the person in the new position will be to find operations funding through membership, philanthropy and grants. As a start-up non-profit there are limited resources, little for hiring staff personnel.

There is a business plan under review for the NTLC. A report on the review should be available in the spring. Steering committee treasurer Tom Byrne is working on the business plan and the non-profit 501-3 application. EDA President Dwight Luhmann is working on the by-laws. Eventually, the non-profit will have a board of directors.

The center is looking to partner with wildlife, conservation, fishing, and university organizations, both public and private, along with local governments. Programs will be targeted for all ages, and especially for youth ,to promote an interest in the outdoors and the surrounding environment. Educational programs will detail what can be done to protect the assets of the area's cold water streams and the driftless area. It is estimated that $1.1 billion is spent each year on trout fishing in the driftless area. Mr. Spangler said according to recent studies there is a powerful motive to maintain and enhance cold water fisheries which attract tourism. There are efforts to rehabilitate degraded trout habitats. Spangler complimented the DNR as professionals with good judgment and dedication.

There is a possible grant under consideration from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). If the grant were awarded, it would have an environmental objective and would need to be used for habitat restoration. The objective would be to improve conditions along the Root River in Preston. It wouldn't be for litter clean-up, but would be to rehabilitate shoreland by removing willow over growth and replace with desirable vegetation. It could also be used to physically move the gravel island below the power plant to the north shore which would aid in the reduction of flooding and contribute to the development of trout habitat. Mr. Spangler said if the application is turned down, it could be resubmitted in coming years.

Volunteers

Donations of time and talent are welcome. Not all donations are necessarily monetary. The center is seeking people in the community that have time to volunteer. There is a need for someone with clerical and secretarial abilities. People that can contribute a couple hours per week could enjoy a flexible schedule and training if needed. The extra help would allow the center to extend their store hours. With a larger volunteer base, staffing needs would be reduced.

George Spangler noted they welcome contributions in the form of ideas of what things could be done to fulfill the missions of the center. Kay Spangler said the center has been the recipient of many generous donations, including books, artifacts, art work, furniture and more. The plan is to have an exhibit space in the permanent building and use some of the donations for educational purposes. The committee is working on a collections management policy. A website is planned concentrating on cold water conservation, trout and trout-related information.

George Spangler remarked that he is very optimistic about the future of the center. He says it is an interesting and rewarding experience. He worked 30 years for the University of Minnesota Department of Fisheries. Kathy Dahl is the Director of Tourism in Preston and co-chair on the steering committee.

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