Ben and Sarah Havens have been living right in the middle of Bennett Spring State Park with their 11-year-old son, Eli, and 6-year-old daughter, Harper ever since Ben took the position of hatchery manager four years ago. However, life at Bennett Spring is much more than a regular job for this busy family. Sarah is a natural resources field specialist with the University Missouri Extension Service, working out of their Rolla office where she covers 61 counties, primarily in the Bootheel area, as well as the region south of Kansas City and much of south central Missouri.
“I enjoy what I do,” she explained recently seated in their living room, sandwiched between their two children. “I work in natural resources, with forestry and wildlife issues in adult education, doing workshops a number of evenings. I also help to educate people in Missouri about invasive species and why it is important to plant our own native plants at home. Then I teach these same subjects through 4-H.”
We host Lunch and Learn programs, all sort of things to get the information out there.”
Another program that has captured Sarah’s interest is the Mayfly Project, one that promotes fly tying and fly fishing for the state’s foster children. “It’s a chance to get the kids outside five or six times. When they finish the program, they leave with their own fly rod, a vest, a chest pack, and a pocket full of flies. There is a real emphasis on conservation, like pack out what you pack in, pick up your trash as well as someone else’s if it’s there, that sort of thing.”
Sarah was first involved with the program at Meramec Springs and Montauk, two other Missouri trout parks, and now she is working with others to bring it to Bennett Spring. “We are looking for mentors right now to help teach the kids how to tie their own flies.”
Independent of the Mayfly Project, Ben and Sarah had started a fly tying event once a month at Bennett Spring on the first Friday of each month, or as close as they could get to that first Friday, depending on the holiday weekend schedule.
“We meet at the Bennett Spring Church of God annex, also right here in the park. We started at the hatchery building but immediately outgrew it, which of course, is a good thing,” Ben laughed.
Currently, approximately 25 folks gather on those Friday nights and it is open to the whole community, both local residents and Bennett Spring visitors and campers.
“In that way, everybody can get caught up in the fun of fly fishing with the kids,” she continued. “We try to pick a fly to teach and work on each night but of course, if someone there wants to work on a different one that’s perfectly all right, too. We look for lots of flies to be donated because when we get out on the spring branch later, especially with our Mayfly Project kids, a lot of these flies end up in the trees and never make it back to those vests and boxes. Still, it’s great fun and for so many of these kids a completely new experience.”
While fly tying meetings will continue this fall at the Bennett Spring Church of God on the first Friday (or the second Friday in September, due to Labor Day), plans are well underway to bring the first Mayfly Project to Bennett Spring in the spring of 2020. Would-be mentors are encouraged to come by those fly tying get-togethers or drop off their contact information at the Bennett Spring Hatchery.
Meanwhile, Ben Havens, the hatchery manager, has his own special trout fishing project, Ladies Free Fishing Day to be held on Saturday, September 28, the last Saturday in September. “This is our third year to host this event here at Bennett Spring,” he stated. “All the same trout fishing rules apply, the only difference being that the ladies don’t have to pay for a tag that day. We stock a few extra trout and we feature activities that include information on regional and national womens’ angler groups and other shared interests.”
He concluded. “Just to make it more fun and interesting, Sarah hosts a Ladies’ mixer on Friday night before the Free Fishing Day, that includes a little wine, cheese and crackers as a fund raiser for the Mayfly Project, so we encourage everyone to come out and enjoy. We appreciate everyone’s help to get these underrepresented groups involved in trout fishing because that is what it is really all about, getting more folks involved in something we have long enjoyed, spending time outdoors, fishing.”