Sunny forecast could mean big Opening Day

Opening Day is March 1

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Hatchery Manager Ben Havens predicted a big Opening Day during a pre-season meeting.

Havens spoke to a crowd of about 55 interested anglers and business owners at the park's informational meeting at the Bennett House on Feb. 22 and said the long range weather forecast for March 1 was sunny with temperature in the 50s.

"If we have a sunny 50 degree day, we'll have a wonderful opening day," Havens said.

That this opening day falls on a Sunday should also increase the numbers.

"Sunday openers for the trout park are historically just a knockout day. We got our biggest ever opener in the state on March 1,1992 when we had 4,092," Havens said.

He said the water was around two inches higher than normal, which would not affect fishing.

"The fishing will be just as good as it was last year, and maybe a little bit better," Havens said.

Havens was the first speaker at the meeting designed to inform the attendees of changes in the park over the off-season and how the park fared in 2019.

Some 136,374 tags were sold during the 2019 season, which is comparable to tags sold for the last five years, according to Havens.

Regulation changes include a 10 fish possession limit throughout Missouri's trout parks.

"You can still only keep your four fish per day," Havens said.

Once 10 have been accumulated, fishing stops until they are eaten or given away. 

A fee increase to $4 per adult and $3 for kids.

Meramec Spring Park will charge $5 per tag and allow five fish per day as part of a pilot program.

Havens said the new brochures with up-to-date regulations are colored green and available at several locations including the Park Store.

Havens also took the opportunity to promote the free fishing opportunities that target groups with hopes of encouraging them to adopt trout fishing as a lifelong hobby.

Veterans Free Fishing Day will be held April 18 with Kids Free Fishing Day following on May 2. Free fishing Weekend is slated for June 6 and 7. Women's Free Fishing Day is the last event and is scheduled for September 26.

Havens reminded the attendees about the Mayfly Project that promotes tying flies that are donated to foster kids who use them while they are being taught to fly fish.

Natural Resource Manager Gabe DuMond discussed some changes in the park, including some bad news for patrons of the pool.

"This is planned to be the last season for the pool. The swimming pool we have here at Bennett is 56 years old ... The average life span of a concrete pool, the shell, is about a 25 year life span, so we have squeezed about every bit of life out of it that we can," DuMond said.

He said last year the time spent repairing it rivaled the time that it was ready for use.

The pool draws water from the same well system as the rest of the park. DuMond said it put a strain on the drinking water supply.

He said he was taking suggestions on what to do with the space once the pool is removed.

The aquarium in the Nature Center was removed, creating a presenatation space with a projector and a screen. He plans to add more lighting as well.

DuMond and his staff has removed several trees that might have endangered public safety, especially some ash trees.

Cabin renovation, two cabins per off-season, has continued with two more being ready for renting by opening day.

Air conditioning units in the cabins are also being replaced.

DuMond said the hood vent system in the Dining Lodge had been improved with new exhaust motors on the roof and new ductwork inside. 

"Hopefully, when you guys go in for your breakfast or your lunch, you won't get smoked out this year. We apologize for the inconvenience last year," DuMond said.

Floods last year and this year have affected the park.

Havens reported two floods, one on January 10 with a three foot rise and another six days later with the same influx of water to the park had been a challenge.

Havens said the warm water floods of the summer were worse by changing the water temperature of water in the hatchery and killing fish or changing growth rates.

"Over the last year, it definitely affected the growth of fish," Havens said. 

He said he hoped to receive some rotating screens and some intake upgrades to improve conditions in the hatchery depending on how the backlog of work through the state's parks is resolved.

Havens also spoke about the kids that come to work in the park.

He said the Greater Ozark Center for Adult Professional Studies or GOCAPS kids had been very active in the park.

"It gives kids real world job experience. They come out, and we torture them at the hatchery for two or three days and show them what real work is all about," Havens said.

Afterward, they decide to keep working at the park for two or three weeks or move on to try other GOCAPS venues.

Havens said the number of hatchery tours last year was well into the hundreds.

Tours of the hatchery also kept Havens' staff busy.

"We probably reached close to 7,000 people with the hatchery tours alone between the school groups and the other groups that come to visit our facilities," Havens said.

Havens said he and his staff work with several local civics groups including the Lion's Club which hosts Lucky Duck Race in the park as their biggest fundraiser of the year to purchase eyeglasses and other vision-related items.

Havens thanked the many volunteers that help for special events in the park. Several were present for the meeting.

The park's stocking commitments will not change in 2020.

Havens said the hatchery will continue to stock 304,000 fish, which is 2.25 fish for each of the 135,000 anglers expected to visit the park, 7,500 trout into the Niangua outside the park and about 32,000 for the Kansas City urban winter fishing program.

Havens considered the meeting a productive one.

"It's always good to get these folks out and hear what's on their mind. Everybody's got cabin fever and they're ready to get out in the stream and get the trout season started," Havens said.

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