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Colville Hatchery site a natural jewel

CONSERVATION — My Sunday Outdoors feature story focused on the Colville Fish Hatchery and how it's been transformed into a science classroom for the area's high school students.

But it can't be overemphasized that the hatchery Stevens County acquired from the Washington Fish and Wildlife Department came with 19.4 acres surrounding the springs that form the headwaters of Colville Creek — another natural laboratory for the students.

They've barely scratched the surface of the area's potential, sampling variety of aquatic insects that trout need when they're weened off the fish feed and putting out trail cams to monitor the deer — and cougars — that wander through the little preserve that's nestled in a Colville neighborhood.

Kathy Ahlenslager, Colville national Forest botanist, had this observation of the property:

The site has patiently waited for a group to care for it.  For 19 acres in town it's diverse with at least 142 plant species in 42 families, including two rare ones:  giant helliborine orchid (Epipactis gigantea) and bristly sedge (Carex comosa).  And every weed from this area!  First on the list will be to tame the Virginia creeper on the cedars and the rampant hounds tongue!

Indeed, Jono Esvelt, forestry and wildlife instructor and hatchery manager for the school district, will be having students clip and bag the hounds tongue plants in a long-term plan to reduce the amount of seed they scatter on the landscape.

You say you don't know what hounds tongue is?  

I guess you don't have a long-haired bird dog.

Colville Fish Hatchery sale to county approved

FISHING — The Washington Fish and Wildlife Commission today approved the sale of the state’s Colville Fish Hatchery to Stevens County, which plans to use it as an educational and vocational learning center.

The commission approved a proposal to sell the 95-year-old trout hatchery for its appraised value of $150,000 during a public meeting in Olympia.

“This is really a win-win for the department and Stevens County,” said Commissioner Gary Douvia, who lives in Colville and helped to champion the sale. “While the hatchery may be past its prime, it’s still a real asset for the community.”

Dan Budd, WDFW real estate manager, said the state acquired the trout hatchery from Stevens County in 1933 and operated it for nearly 80 years. WDFW closed the facility last June and moved most of the fish production to the Spokane Hatchery to cut costs in response to state budget reductions, he said.

Douvia said the county plans to create a non-profit organization to work with area schools to operate the facility and use it as a learning center. Students will learn hatchery-management skills at an on-site classroom affiliated with the Spokane-based NEWTECH Skill Center and supported by local Stevens County school districts.

“The last time I checked, 22 students had signed up – and the program isn’t even up and running yet,” Douvia said.

Trout produced by the students will provide additional fish for local lakes and boost the local economy, he said. In addition, the terms of contract allow WDFW to credit Stevens County for the value of those fish toward the amount owed for the hatchery.

The current 19.4-acre property includes water rights and a small house. The Colville Confederated Tribes provided operational funding for the hatchery from 2010 through 2012, before it was closed last June.