By Roger McKinney
NEOSHO, Mo. —
Russell Hively, president of the Friends of the Neosho National Fish Hatchery group, on Friday proposed a new name for the hatchery.
“The name should be changed to Neosho National Fish Hatchery and Place of Wonderful Memories,” Hively said during the ceremony recognizing the hatchery’s 125th anniversary.
He said that in the visitors center he often overhears people talking about their memories of time spent at the hatchery.
“I understand that in the 1950s it was even a favorite parking place for teenagers,” Hively said as his audience laughed.
Congress established the National Fish Hatchery in Neosho in July 1888. It’s the first and the oldest operating federal fish hatchery. It was chosen for the available land, the freshwater spring and the nearby railroad. The first shipment of 25,000 fish eggs arrived in January 1890 and they soon began to hatch. The hatchery is operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
A $4.6 million, 9,500-square-foot visitors center opened in 2010.
BEING PART OF IT
Randy Bartkoski, of Carthage, was among those who came to Friday’s event. He said he volunteered as a park-sitter in the 1980s, so the hatchery could remain open on Sundays and the workers would have time off. He said he also respects and admires the current director, David Hendrix.
“I wanted to come down today and be part of it,” Bartkoski said.
He said he also plans to visit the hatchery with his two granddaughters from California when they come in a few weeks.
“This is something you can’t get in the big city,” Bartkoski said.
Megan Hinkle, of Ritchey, came with her children, Eva, 5, and Alex, 4.
“They love the fish hatchery,” Hinkle said. She said they were there on Thursday and learned of the anniversary event. It was the first thing on Eva’s mind when she woke up on Friday.
“She reminded me about the party today,” Hinkle said.
Asked what she liked about the hatchery, Eva said it was the bubble that allows children to view the fish from inside an aquarium.
“I like seeing the fishies in the bubble,” she said.
Reece Long, 10, of Webb City, was the youngest of three generations at the hatchery. Also along was his mother, Jayna Long, and Jayna’s father, Rex Black, of Joplin. Black said he had seen several people he knew at the event. Jayna Long said she grew up in Neosho, so it was a part of her childhood.
“I think the fish are really cool and it’s been here for a very long time,” Reece Long said.
Hatchery manager David Hendrix said around 45,000 people visit the hatchery every year. With the new visitors center, and with the help of social media, he said he hopes to increase the number of visitors to 100,000.
Don Hefley, of Columbus, Kan., came with his brother, Jim Hefley, of Baxter Springs, Kan. Don Hefley, 85, said he has been visiting the hatchery since he took basic training at Camp Crowder during World War II.
The 418th Civil Affairs Battalion, an Army Reserve battalion based in Belton, also took part in the day. Sgt. Omar Lopez, of Manhattan, Kan., and Sgt. Jarrod Wilson, of Grandview, were talking with visitors about their Humvee. They said they would get to tour the hatchery later.
“It looks like a very friendly community,” Lopez said. “Everyone is very welcoming and thanks us for our service.”
State Rep. Bill Reiboldt, R-Neosho, presented the hatchery with resolutions approved by the Missouri House and Senate.
“It’s the first and the oldest fish hatchery still in operation,” Reiboldt said.
“And the best,” came a voice from the audience.
“And the best,” Reiboldt said in response. “I’ll agree with that.”
“One of my favorite places forever is the fish hatchery,” he said.
The Neosho National Fish Hatchery produces more than 100,000 pounds of rainbow trout annually that generate $15 million for the Missouri economy. The hatchery also produces pallid sturgeon, which is endangered, for the Lower Missouri River.