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Fish are more than dinner, they are a way of life.
That was the message at Tuesday's 75th anniversary celebration for the Vancouver Trout Hatchery, part of the 100-acre Columbia Springs natural area, 12208 S.E. Evergreen Highway.
"People really love fish, they connect to fish. It's meaningful to their lives," said Gala Miller, Columbia Springs executive director. "Fish help connect us to the natural world."
Built in 1938 -- part of the "New Deal" economic revitalization in the Great Depression-- the hatchery raises nearly 90,000 trout a year to stock local lakes. It also hatches about 275,000 steelhead for release into rivers.
The area has changed drastically since the hatchery opened, but the importance of fish to the region has remained a constant.
Region's heritage and economy
The aquatic critters -- and the economic and recreational activities that involve them -- are a significant part of our Pacific Northwest heritage, said Guy Norman, regional director for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, which operates the hatchery with about $285,000 in annual funding from Clark Public Utilities. Tens of thousands of anglers visit the county yearly to take advantage of the abundant supply of hatchery fish, he said, bringing an estimated $3 million to the local economy.
Besides the economic effects of the hatchery's output, the site is a popular destination for families, field trips and other visitors. It's also known to draw some uninvited guests, especially a few hungry otters who occasionally pop by to treat the large fish ponds as all-you-can-eat seafood buffets.
Cycle of life
The hatchery functions as a foster home for fish, raising them until they can be released into the wild.
Eggs arrive from other Washington hatcheries each winter and are incubated in indoor troughs for a few months until the hatchlings grow large enough to be shifted outdoors to circular ponds. Once they are deemed a "catchable" half-pound size later in the year, the trout are transported in a special tanker to local waters.
Jamie Birkeland came to the celebration to show his support for the hatchery and the staff, volunteers and agencies that keep it running year after year. He's treasurer for the Klineline Kids Fishing nonprofit, which takes advantage of a fully stocked Klineline Pond to teach thousands of kids to fish each year.
"Without the program here, our fishing events would not happen," he said.
Question of continuation
Things haven't always gone swimmingly for the hatchery. State cutbacks threatened to close the facility in the 1990s until it was saved in 1997 through a commitment from Clark Public Utilities to cover the operating costs for 20 years. As it inches closer to the 20-year mark, the utility's board of commissioners must decide whether or not to continue funding the hatchery, an operation the agency considers a benefit to the community and the environment.
"(Funding past 2017) has not been part of the current conversation," said Erica Erland, Clark Public Utilities spokeswoman. "The commissioners will consider that at the time."
Reflecting on the hatchery's long history, Columbia Springs' executive director hoped for the best.
"We hope to stay here for 75 more years to come," Miller said.