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Nearly four years after the 55,000-acre Complex Fire of July 2007 nearly burnt the structure down and three years after heavy rainfall on the burnt areas sent a flood of mud and debris through the historic grounds, the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is not only recovered but newly expanded.
Friends of Mt. Whitney Hatchery are inviting the public to celebrate the opening of the new Wildlife Interpretive Center at the hatchery this Saturday.
The fun starts at 6 p.m. with dinner, live music by Sandy and Clay Anderson and cowboy poetry by Duane Rossi.
The friends are a group of volunteers interested in preserving the hatchery and keeping it open to the public. The volunteers redoubled their efforts at the facility after the flood nearly destroyed the hatchery. The structures at the hatchery stood, but the infrastructure of water pipes and pools were largely left unusable. There was reportedly four feet of mud and debris throughout the grounds.
The hatchery was once renowned for the perfect waters for fish husbandry, cold and clear from the Sierra Nevada rushing down Oak Creek. Friend Bruce Ivey explained the fire and flood may have destroyed that perfect water system. The trees that shadowed and cooled the creek water were lost in the fire.
The managers of the facility, the California Department of Fish and Game, unable to afford to refurbish the hatchery, agreed to let the Friends turn the historic hatchery into a grounds for gatherings and social events, as well as part museum and part hatchery.
The grounds have been cleaned up, the lobby remodeled and the DFG is even experimenting with raising small fish, literally testing the waters to see if they are still optimal for raising trout. Ivey said the Friends, along with donations of cash and equipment, and many volunteers, including state and Inyo County inmates, have spent eight months and thousands of hours of labor restoring the hatchery grounds.
The first batch of trout to come out of the hatchery post-fire was planted in Diaz Lake for the 2010 Early Southern Inyo Opener.
Saturdayâ€™s grand opening will be for the Wildlife Interpretive Center. The construction started in August 2010 with Lone Pine contractor Coale Johnson and his CRJ Construction crew doing the work. John and Katie Olson, who had been Disney Imagineers, or park designers, for years have been advising the Friends on how to best build the center.
Ivey said Tuesday the displays are set up, but the collection of historic photographs will go up at a later date. Ivey added that everyone will get a tour of the new center on Saturday.
The grounds are open from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Thursday through Monday. There is a gift shop and tours available, all staffed by the Friends. There is also a trough of trout available for closer viewing.
The Friends are always in need of new members and donations.
To reserve a day for a special occasion, wedding or family reunion to make a donation or volunteer, contact Bruce Ivey at Friends of Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery at: P.O. Box 193, Independence, CA 93562; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Admission price for the grand opening and dinner will be $15 for adults and $5 for kids.