Colville Fish Hatchery gets new lease on life

A plan to transform the idle Colville Fish Hatchery into an educational and vocational learning center got the green light late last month. The venerable hatchery, located on a little more than 19 pristine acres along Highway 20 and Third Avenue in east Colville, was acquired by the state of Washington from Stevens County back in 1933 and operated by the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife for nearly 80 years before it was closed in 2010.The hatchery has come full circle—back in the hands of Stevens County and soon to be back on line raising trout that will be stocked in area lakes and streams. Price tag for the hatchery and property (20 years) is $150,000—payable in fish.While the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife found the Colville Fish Hatchery to be financial liability in later years of operation (upwards of $120,000 a year to run it), the facility and its 19.4 acres are priceless locally. Water rights, the facilities (including a residence) and land are priceless and something of a “steal” at that price.Major playerThere have been several key players who have worked behind the scenes to turn an idea into reality. One of the major advocates for transforming the old hatchery into a learning opportunity for high school students is former Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission Vice-Chair Gary Douvia. Douvia, of Kettle Falls, who had served on the nine-member citizen panel since 2006 before his term expired on Jan. 1, 2013, is excited about the prospects of turning the hatchery into a learning laboratory.“This is a win for about all sources involved,” Douvia said recently, adding that “we’ve been able to reach out to a very broad part of the community…this is a deal where (Stevens) county can have control without paying out money.”A business plan has been established and a non-profit organization with a nine member advisory board is being created to work with area schools to operate the hatchery and use it as a learning center. The hatchery will be operated under the umbrella and as a branch campus of Spokane District 81-based NEWTECH Skill Center.Douvia emphasized that “outside resources are being brought in to generate this…it has nothing to do with school levies or any school funding,” he said. Initially, anywhere from 20 to 40 students (depending on interest levels) will be involved in the program to raise fish at the hatchery. Jono Esvelt, a 19-year Kettle Falls High School vocational/agriculture education teacher, will serve as the hatchery’s educational director once the facility is back on line this fall. ‘Hands-on’Esvelt said that students will spend a portion of time in off-site course work (at nearby Aster School) learning fisher¬ies science and fish biology (the raising of trout).“The other part will be the hands-on aspect of actually raising fish and working at the hatchery,” added Esvelt, who has been working on the project for well over a year. In that time, with the backing of the Kettle Falls School District and people like Douvia and former Stevens County Commissioner Malcolm Friedman, Esvelt was able to get NEWTECH Skills Center on board to make the hatchery a branch campus in partnership with area high schools; visit other school districts around the Northwest that run fish hatcheries, and apply for grants.“This is very exciting,” conceded Esvelt in a recent interview. “It’s a new direction in vocational education and it could turn into something of a flagship program.”The opportunity to learn (and earn credits) hatchery management skills will be open to upper class high school level students in Home School and private academy situations as well public schools.“We are able to offer this unique vocational training for any (11th and 12th grade) kid,” Esvelt said, adding that the 19.4 acre hatchery parcel is a verdant landscape with “a lot of possibilities for (learning) projects…there are two creeks on the property and a lot of biology on site in that watershed.”But the primary focus will be raising trout for the area’s rivers and lakes.Bringing the hatchery and a garage up to speed will entail considerable volunteer work, according to Esvelt, who said that “there is a lot of volunteer work ahead and we certainly would appreciate any addi¬tional help and donated materials.”Initially, a summer school session will be created (June and July) where interested students who sign up will be able to learn the construction trade. The vocational/construction trade class will offer .5 credits and entail about five hours a day (worth of work on the hatchery project). Esvelt said he is looking for about 10 students for that program.Esvelt, who conceded that his personal “learning curve” has already “gone through the roof,” is excited to be on the threshold and cutting edge of “a hands-on learning experience that is right in front of us…a piece of ground and a hatchery. This is really invaluable for what we do in vocational training in this area.”Similar in scopeReprising the hatchery for educational purposes is similar to another project Colville High School graduate Douvia was involved with several years ago—saving the old CHS on Elm Street from the wrecking ball and helping to transform that aging facility into a branch campus of the Community Colleges of Spokane.“It’s kind of a déjà vu,” Douvia admitted. “We did the same thing with the old high school. It was a situation where we built cooperation and were able to bring people together for the common good.“With the hatchery, it was a case where the Fish and Wildlife Department didn’t want to see the (Colville) hatchery go away—they didn’t want to sell the property outright. It was a chance to help perpetuate the fishery and provide a benefit for the community. This is really a big win-win and a chance to fulfill their purpose to provide fish resources for the state.“Fishing and this hatchery bring a lot to our local economy. Anything we can do to enhance that certainly helps boost that economy.”The Colville hatchery “fish flow” will focus on triploid trout as its principal revenue source (10,000 to 15,000 annually). The student hatchery program also plans to produce 100,000 to 150,000 redband rainbow fry to start. For Esvelt, helping to reprise the old hatchery as a vocational learning opportunity is something of a dream opportunity. He can hardly wait to get started raising fish with his new students. The veteran educator has also been gratified by the extent of the collaboration on work to save a valuable piece of the local economy and Colville valley history.“I have been amazed with the amount and numbers of groups involved in this and how Gary (Douvia) has been able to pull this together.”Washington For Wildlife a major player in the projectDouvia acknowledged several individuals and entities for their cooperation and collaboration in getting the Colville Fish Hatchery to the cusp of operational status again—and a rebranding. “Atta-boys to the (Stevens) county commissioners, the school districts and to Washington For Wildlife, the non-profit that is the glue holding this operation together,” Douvia pointed out. Added the retired businessman: “Colville has a big heart for getting involved. In some ways, this is typical of Colville…this is something the community can see that they are getting without being taxed.”For more information about the project, call Esvelt at 738-6388, ext. 416.