Butte Falls schools land hatchery deed

The Butte Falls School District on Tuesday became the proud owner of most of the former Butte Falls Hatchery property it hopes to use as an outdoor environmental lab as early as next fall.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife delivered the keys and deed to 10 acres of the 13-acre parcel that was home to raising salmon, steelhead and trout for 96 years before it was shuttered two years ago.

At first the hatchery will be woven into some lesson plans, but eventually district officials see it as a working science lab where students will grow fish and visiting scholars will conduct research under the shade of the property's mammoth Douglas fir stands.

"How much we'll use it is something I don't know yet, but we'll be there in the fall," district Superintendent David Courtney said after receiving the deed.

"A lot of it will depend upon teaching the teachers how to use it," he said.

That could come next month when members of Oregon State University's Natural Resources Educational Program travel to this tiny hamlet tucked into the Cascade slopes for some hands-on training on integrating outdoor curriculum into the classroom, Courtney said.

Two years in the making, the transfer made good on an effort by ODFW biologists to divest itself of the crumbling money pit plagued by disease problems and lagging state coffers while keeping it accessible to the public.

"It's now officially theirs," said Russ Stauff, the ODFW's Rogue Watershed manager who handled the transaction. "I hope it will work out for the school."

The deed includes the acreage as well as an old house used as an office, a garage, cold-storage building once used to store fish feed and a dried-up pond, Stauff said. The district also has access to a sliver of the hatchery's old water right to fill the pond, and the remaining 15 cubic feet per second of water from that right will stay in the South Fork of Big Butte Creek, he said.

Still unsettled, however, is the transfer of the remaining 3 acres along with the hatch house and two residences owned by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

That land was donated in 1941 to ODFW by the federal government explicitly for operation of a fish hatchery. Because the hatchery has been scrapped, the agreement requires that the land revert back to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service is conducting environmental assessments and Courtney said he hopes the land will end up in the district's holdings.

Courtney said the district continues to pursue grants to fund the lab.

Reach reporter Mark Freeman at 541-776-4470, or email at mfreeman@mailtribune.com.

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