-The History of Fort Peck Hatchery-
The first time a new warm water hatchery was mentioned publicly was at the 1998 Montana Governors Cup Walleye Tournament. A tournament angler brought up the fact that Montana needed a new warm water fish hatchery. A meeting was set up with the FWP to discuss the possibility of getting a new hatchery and obtain the FWP’s input. This meeting took place at the VFW in Glasgow and was attended by FWP, Core of Engineers staff, and the public. The clerk of court was hired by citizens to take notes of the meeting. After several hours of back and forth between FWP and the public, it became apparent that FWP wasn’t interested in working with the public to secure a hatchery. After that meeting it was decided by the citizens that to circumvent FWP the public would need to get a state legislator to draft a bill to take to the 1999 legislator.
Rep. Sam Kitzenberg was approached and agreed to draft the legislation and carry it to the legislature. Citizens for a Fort Peck Hatchery was organized and the members held public meetings in central and eastern Montana communities to inform the public of the project and garner support for the hatchery. Citizens for a Fort Peck Hatchery made hatchery signs to display in communities to show support. Walleyes Unlimited groups, businesses and private individuals, purchased the signs. The signs helped raise awareness of the project.
During the group effort to build a Fort Peck fish hatchery in 1999 the Corp of Engineers and particularly, Roy Snyder, Lake Manager at Fort Peck helped the project immensely by offering 97 acres of land next to the Dredge Cuts below Fort Peck dam. A letter was secured from the head of the Omaha District offering the land if the hatchery was approved by the state and federal legislators. While all these things were happening, Don Groven, editor of fish tales magazine wrote numerous articles in support of the hatchery and had connections to someone who spoke to Senator Conrad Burns about the hatchery. Senator Burns met with some of the proponents of the hatchery and agreed to draft legislation to pursue the hatchery at the federal level if it passed through the state legislature. One of the key ingredients of the hatchery funding was to introduce a $5.00 warm water fish stamp to help make the project viable and to show Montana that the warm water anglers were willing to do their share to fund the hatchery.
At the state legislature a very tough fight ensued with Trout Unlimited and various sportsmen’s groups opposing the hatchery. FWP claimed to be a “NO” opponent meaning they were neutral on the hatchery. If we believed that we never would have secured the hatchery. The bills passed the Montana house by 1 vote and when the Citizens got to the Senate they had learned a lot about the legislative process and had the support of several Senators. The billed passed the senate 37 to 13. Governor Roscoe signed the bill into law and the next step was to secure Federal funding for the hatchery. The plan was to use all the monies the state and 6 counties around the lake had expended over the last 60 years, building and maintaining roads, stocking fish, building campgrounds, etc. around the lake as their cost share.
The state, then having getting credit for their half of the cost share the Federal Government was to pay the bill for the hatchery as its part of their cost share. Senator Burns, Baucus, and Rep. Rehburg were all on board by this time and things were moving. One problem that was really tough was a feasibility study needed to be done to get an idea of cost. This is where the warm water stamp was so important. The Citizens and Roy Synder came up with the idea of using the proceeds from the stamp to pay the $250,000 for the cost share on the feasibility study. Sam Waters, of First Community Bank was approached about using the stamp fund to secure the $250,000. Sam was interested and soon he had received commitments from 16 banks, credit unions and a telephone company to take equal shares in the loan. The feasibility study was completed and the hatchery moved on to building the 40 ponds and the design of the hatchery building. After citizens got a look at the final plans of the hatchery building, they realized that the plan had been altered with lots of cold water fish rearing equipment. Because the plan was so far along the public eventually agreed to an inflated 22 million dollar hatchery. The hatchery ground breaking was in 2002 and the hatchery was dedicated in 2006. To all warm water anglers let this be a reminder that together with the Walleyes Unlimited Chapters in the state and the general public that this is a project that they can take great pride in getting accomplished.
Let us make this perfectly clear, without the support of All the Montana Walleyes Unlimited Chapters and their devoted and selfless members, this hatchery would still be just a dream. These people came through for this project every time a crisis arose. What a great organization!!
Finally, we would like to say to anyone who thinks that this project was not pure hard work, determination and dedication we say “GO AHEAD, TRY IT.”:
Narrated by Citizens for a Fort Peck Hatchery