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National Trout Learning Center, more than a wild dream

Fri, May 14th, 2010
Posted in Business Announcements

Randy Brock, meteorologist for Fox 47 news, fly fisherman and president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, introduced guest speakers interested in furthering the regional partnerships of the National Trout Learning Center. Photos courtesy of Cathy Enerson, Preston EDA Director

A very well attended and upbeat regional partnership meeting was held at Eagle Bluff on May 10. Attendees included area business people, local and county government officials, interested citizens, university educators, state and county natural resource, soil and water and trout fishing/sportsman groups. The intention was to bring people together to discuss the possibilities and opportunities of a National Trout Learning Center (NTLC) to be located in Preston. Randy Brock, Fox 47 news, fly fisherman and president of the local chapter of Trout Unlimited, welcomed the crowd of around fifty people and introduced the morning's speakers. He called the NTLC a "gigantic opportunity" to develop a natural resource we have here in southeastern Minnesota.

Most of the morning's speakers were members of the NTLC steering committee. George Spangler, chair of the NTLC steering committee, declared that we are at the absolute center of the trout fishing in the Midwest. The center could help the area achieve a greater degree of economic security. The plan for the center is to focus on teaching people about fresh water habitat and letting people know this is where fishing is located. He asked for the support of the business community and educators. The center would celebrate our marvelous area and the natural geologic features of the region.

Spangler asked for the crowd's participation by donating time, expertise and money to help develop the center. He expects the center to be self supporting. Spangler credited the Preston EDA and Cathy Enerson, its director, with the vision for the center.

Enerson said the idea has blossomed since last May. Preston is Minnesota's Trout Fishing Capital and an outdoor person's paradise. Members of the EDA visited the National Eagle Center, which has been very supportive of the Preston venture. Enerson remarked that the Eagle Center has transformed Wabasha and has had a significant impact on local businesses. Following the Eagle Center plan, Preston will open a temporary NTLC during Preston Trout Days on May 15. The temporary center will be located at 120 St. Anthony Street in Preston. The Eagle Center has had visitors from over 80 countries and they expect over 100,000 visitors this year.

Cris Gastner, Fillmore County EDA, explained the importance of identifying the assets in the region that are already there for us to build on. He emphasized the need for communities to work together regionally and to recognize that different activities can be linked to increase the number of tourism dollars brought into an area. Gastner pointed to the bike trails as one element that is already bringing communities together. An added benefit of bringing in more visitors could be additional residents. Visitors might recognize the area as a place they want to retire or raise their children.

Preston Tourism and NTLC co-chair, Kathy Dahl, emphasized the need to get the word out about what our area has to offer. She referred to a study conducted by Trout Unlimited which found the average angler in the driftless area fishes 23 times per year and spends about $200 on each outing. For $26, an angler can have a year round fishing license. Anglers are predominantly male, but Dahl noted our area has a variety of activities for the whole family.

Kelly Herold, Winona State University, illustrated what an added attraction can do for the economy of a community using his home town area in North Dakota. Gary Greff built a large sculpture near a small town in North Dakota to save a dying town. The town of about 300 now brings in as many as 24,000 visitors along the thirty-two mile stretch of highway south of Regent, North Dakota, that features seven sculptures on the Enchanted Highway. The Preston Arts Council is working with Gary Greff in hopes of creating a thirty foot trout sculpture.

Herold estimates the NTLC could bring 50,000 to 100,000 people to the Preston area. As farms are getting larger, families are getting smaller resulting in school consolidation and contraction or stagnation of small rural towns. Herold's answer is diversification which will help small communities flourish. The Preston area already has a good highway system, hotels, and infrastructure. There are 600 cold water streams in the driftless area of southeast Minnesota.

The National Eagle Center had 5,000 visitors in the early 1990's and 17 years later expects over 100,000. The Wolf Center in Ely, Minnesota, has 50,000 visitors per year. They amount to 20-30% of the tourists in the area and bring in about $3 million of extra income.

Herold made it clear that to make the NTLC a reality will require an investment and commitment from volunteers, EDA, Preston, local businesses, national, state and local chapters of Trout Unlimited, Fillmore County SWCD, local and county authorities and other current partners, including the U of M, WSU, and the DNR.

Joe Tenely, secretary of the Minnesota Trout Association, proclaimed himself an avid fisherman saying he fished 120-147 days per year. He sees fishing as a way to stay closer to nature. Tenely expects the center to educate for basic fishing skills, to identify hazards like Wild Parsnip, to teach visitors about the geology of the area, cold streams and those things that damage the streams and trout habitat. The center should also educate about trout diet, stream ecology and advanced fly fishing techniques.

Eric Bunge, Commonweal Theater, noted that 22 years ago there wasn't a Commonweal Theater. Now, the theater brings in 25,000 people. He encouraged the crowd to pursue the dream, take the first steps and with planning and a little patience, the "wild dream" is a vision and funding follows the vision. He looked around in the Eagle Bluff Discovery Center room and said at one time this, too, was a dream. He maintained the center will allow our area to grow and become more sustainable.

Grant Awards

Dwight Luhmann, president of the Preston EDA, was presented with three checks from Ag Star (Larry Anderson and Jody Bloemke), the Preston Area Community Foundation (Chuck Aug), and the Christianson Family Fund (Dan Christianson). Christianson said this is an opportunity to support economic development.

To volunteer or donate to the NTLC, call 507-765-2153. For more information visit the NTLC website at www.nationaltroutlearningcenter.org.

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