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RSDP Happenings - Focus: Southeast Region

March 2013

National Trout Center to cast message of water quality, conservation with new facility

The trout that inhabit southeast Minnesota's Root River system can be small and delicate but in relation to the impact they have on the area's economy they might as well be record-sized lunkers.

Trout fishing in the small cold water streams southeast of Rochester attracts thousands of anglers from throughout the country each year. With an abundance of Rainbow, Brook, and Brown trout, the area's limestone spring-fed streams are part of a four-state trout fisheries that is among the best anywhere in the United States. And the dollars that flow into the area reflect that. In the last 30 years, Minnesota has rehabilitated 450 miles of trout streams, the vast majority of which are in the southeast corner. Every $1 spent on rehabbing the streams resulted in a $24 return from anglers in the form of tourism-related spending.

In the middle of all this trout fishing activity is Preston, Minn., a small town of 1,300 people on the south branch of the Root River. It's home to the 4-year-old National Trout Center, which rents 2,500 square feet of store front space downtown for small exhibits, retail sales, a library and demonstrations, workshops and lectures.

The space is far too small for the center to carry out its mission of using trout fishing to promote water quality and cold water habitat conservation, and to elevate itself to national recognition. In fact, its goal is to become the place for "all things trout," a literal clearinghouse for trout and trout fisheries information. But without an adequate facility and technological tools, that mission will be hampered, according to George Spangler, who chairs the center's board of directors.

A retired fisheries biology professor at the University of Minnesota, Spangler is now leading a fundraising campaign to raise about $4 million to build a new 10,000-square-foot home for the center, which will operate with a $250,000 annual budget. The state-of-the-art facility will have a unique living stream aquarium running through it, and expanded areas for its library, retail store, demonstrations, workshops and exhibits that explain trout habitat and the culture of trout fishing around the world. Spangler said the board found a three-acre site for the new building right on the Root River, directly across from a natural sandstone and limestone wall that provides insight into the area's geology.

Spangler said the community has been very supportive of the expansion efforts, and assistance has come from organizations like University Extension's Southeast Regional Sustainable Development Partnership (RSDP), which introduced Spangler and the board to the University's Center for Rural Design. With RSDP support, the Center for Rural Design developed a rendering of the new facility that will be used during fundraising efforts. It's also collecting and indexing mapping information that will be used to develop an application for computers and smart phones aimed at helping anglers find access points to trout streams. Using GPS coordinates, the application will show where public easements start and stop.

Technology plays a major role in the National Trout Center's expansion. In the coming weeks, it will launch a new robust website as a one-stop resource for trout and trout habitat information, including book reviews, trout-related activities and research, photos, maps, etc. Spangler and the board are also working on developing an online "trout wiki," which will be similar to a trout-related Wikipedia, where online visitors can contribute to the content with tips for topics like fly tying, rod making, fly fishing and trout recipes. The Southeast RSDP is assisting that project by identifying a researcher to review software packages and make recommendations.

"The economic impact of these trout fisheries is far greater than most people realize," said Spangler, who will be approaching the state Legislature for funding as well as private individuals and businesses. "This will really put Minnesota on the map in terms of trout fishing and stream trout habitat conservation."

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