Public Push Makes Interpretive Center a Reality in Decorah
Communities across Iowa are learning that the more they get involved…the better the chance of creating a regional draw; with people coming from many miles away to enjoy their area; and drop a few dollars, too.
Approached a couple years ago about improvements needed, Decorah trout hatchery manager Brian Malaise thought about it.
“Probably the biggest was for a public restroom,” he admitted.
The hatchery itself—operated by the Department of Natural Resources--drew lots of school groups and other visitors. Anglers fished Trout Run, just a few steps away. And, the bald eagle nest across the road was getting more attention.
Fast forward to this summer.
The eagles have gone viral…logging 270 million views since early 2011. A paved 11 mile trail connects the hatchery--with its well-maintained prairie restoration--to Decorah. There’s still trout fishing and even more visitors.
There’s also a restroom AND interpretative center, now, with plans to expand education opportunities.
Establishing a ‘Friends of the Decorah Hatchery’ group, fundraising rolled. Almost $300,000 later, a lot of those friends, anglers and eagle fans applauded as leaders snipped a fishing line, with paper fish at the entrance of the 22 by 44 foot center; which holds true to the stone work and high pitched roof of the Civilian Conservation Corps heritage of the adjacent hatchery offices.
“We wanted to tell people about the trout hatchery, the bald eagles, the whole area,” underscores Randy Iverson, one of a half dozen people who helped form a ‘Friends of Decorah Hatchery’ group a couple years ago.
“But raising funds is a challenge. A couple grants helped, then the private donations started coming. We wanted to do it right. I’m proud to be a part of it. It’s not just the people of Decorah or Winneshiek County. It’s all over the Midwest.”
The locally led effort may become a blueprint.
“We have a facility 100 percent funded by a Friends Group, rather than having taxpayer money involved. It’s something that is going to be more the norm, rather than just unique in that way,” forecast DNR Director Chuck Gipp at the dedication.
“We are trying to get more communities…to understand the value of a state park, a quality lake or hatchery setting like this; and to get involved. That’s economic growth and activity for that particular community.”
That entered into the ‘Friends’ group discussions.
“Everybody agreed we needed it. The bike trail was coming; the hatchery was busy,” recalls Iverson. “It’s not a remote little area anymore. It’s amazing, the number of people who come out here who spend time at our hotels, our restaurants. This is tourist destination.”