By John Howell
ENID LAKE – The long anticipated grand opening last week of the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery and Visitor Education Center left more people standing than seated as public officials and interested citizens from at least three counties responded en masse to the event’s invitations.
Though the hatchery has been raising fish for state waterways for two years, it was the opening of the visitor’s center that completed the vision of state conservationists that began over 20 years ago. The ribbon cutting Wednesday joined the hatchery’s dual missions of conservation and education.
“This hatchery is truly world class,” said Bob Tyler during his keynote address. Tyler and officials of the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks (MDWFP) had visited hatcheries across the U. S. during the planning stages of the facility planned at Enid Dam, he said. “There’s not a better one in the world.”
The facility is located within sight of Interstate 55 at Enid Dam on 58 acres leased from the Corps of Engineers for 99 years.
On the hatchery side, there are 12 one acre ponds with more to be constructed, a 9,500 square foot building, two 80 foot concrete raceways and a water supply pond. At least a dozen species of fish will be raised from eggs to sizes specified as suitable for stocking the state’s waterways.
That includes the walleye, a fish more often associated with northern waterways but also native to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway in northeast Mississippi. Walleye have been “saved from extinction in the Tenn-Tom” by fingerlings raised at the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery,” said Ron Garavelli, MDWFP Director of Fisheries.
Species also include hybrid crappie, the paddlefish — also known as the spoonbill catfish — and others, he said. Fingerling flathead catfish — some raised from the eggs of large brood females hand-caught by volunteer “grabblers” have been released in Grenada and Enid lakes.
On the education side of the hatchery’s function, the visitor education center is housed in a 5,600 square foot building that includes a 10,000 gallon aquarium which will be home to species native to Mississippi. Outside visitors will find a pavilion, a native plant and pond exhibit, and a fishing education pond.
“This is a great place for people of all ages to have a better understanding of nature,” Tyler continued. “What they see here sends them inside themselves.”
Tyler, the former deputy director of the MDWFP, also served as coordinator of a steering committee which raised approximately $250,000 in cash and in-kind donations to furnish the visitors’ center, said Visitor Education Center Director Jessie Gurner had already booked 22 appointments for groups planning trips to the hatchery. Tyler said that he hoped that the hatchery’s education mission would extend to tourists among passengers in the “19,000 vehicles per day” that pass on nearby Interstate 55.
“This place is about fish and about education,” Tyler added.
Tyler’s address followed introductory remarks by MDWFP Executive Director Sam Polles who praised the former coach’s lifetime of team building that culminated with the fish hatchery’s completion.
Elected officials recognized by MDWFP deputy director and program emcee Al Tuck included Panola-Tate Senator Nolan Mettetal, Panola Representative Warner McBride, Yalobusha Representative Tommy Reynolds, and the Yalobusha Board of Supervisors whose president, Amos Sims, who delivered the invocation.
MDWFP personnel recognized included its Director of Fisheries Ron Garavelli, a former Batesville resident, hatchery manager and assistant manager, respectively, Justin Wilkens and Jacob Dill, and Gurner.
City officials from Batesville and Water Valley were also among those who attended.
“We built the best hatchery we could build and it’s sitting in your back yard.”
Garavelli told the North Mississippi Fish Hatchery steering committee at its first meeting in late 2006.