Making way for new fish hatchery

Demolition of the old barn building starts this week.

Dave Smith of KEEPS laughs with visitors outside the Bell-Irving Hatchery on Sunday as he explains the hatchery is closed until the new one is built.

The old Bell-Irving Fish Hatchery has served well for a long time, considering it was actually built as a barn rather than a place to nurture salmon stocks.

But now it’s so old it’s got mold and had to be closed to the public last year.

And soon it will be no more as the Kanaka Education and Environmental Partnership Society activates Part 1 of its plan.

“We’ve got $270,000 in for the re-building of the Bell-Irving hatchery,” long-time volunteer Dave Smith said Friday.

That money will kickstart demolition of the hatchery this week – followed by the building of a new hatchery over the winter.

Once the new hatchery’s in place, Part 2 of the plan kicks in: completion of the Kanaka Creek Watershed Stewardship Centre, or Kanaka Centre, a project that will be bring the total cost to $1.4 million.

“We’re still fundraising, that’s right,” for that project, said Smith.

KEEPS’ partnership with Fisheries and Oceans Canada and Metro Vancouver has already resulted in some big dollars committed.

Metro Vancouver already has coughed up half a million dollars for the hatchery and the new centre, located in the heart of Maple Ridge’s and Metro Vancouver’s Kanaka Creek Regional Park, at 11450 – 256th St.

The Pacific Salmon Foundation has also chipped in $50,000, while over the last decade Fisheries and Oceans Canada has given $35,000 (from fine revenue). KEEPS will kick in $50,000, as well.

The target is to get about $700,000 in the bank before starting the Kanaka Centre. So far about half the money is there.

Smith said he wants to talk to realtors and developers and builders to see if they want to get in on the project. The Pacific Parklands Foundation also raises money for regional parks.

Last year, Kanaka Creek Regional Park drew more than 360,000 visitors from the Lower Mainland while the hatchery drew about 10,000 visitors as students and the public checked out the rearing of the fish and learned about the importance of fish habitat.

After three decades of operation, the hatchery has released almost eight million fish.

A new centre will allow more room for visitors, classroom presentations, exhibits and programming.

It also will be built using green technology to inspire local builders to follow suit.

A request to Fisheries Minister Keith Ashfield during his recent visit to Pitt Meadows didn’t produce any more dollars for the cause.

“We’ve talked to them five times about trying to find any money at all.

“Wonderful words of praise,” Smith says, before he starts laughing. “I don’t mean to be cynical, but you know.

“Not even a nickel or a dime.”

But Smith said he’ll again approach Maple Ridge MP Randy Kamp, who’s also secretary to the fisheries minister.

Local fundraising is an important part with everybody chipping in whatever they can. People want to help out with local projects, Smith said.

“It’s an amazing group of people who are committed to it, and despite government, not so much with them, but despite government.”

He said KEEPS has a long-term vision for the Kanaka watershed and that Metro Vancouver recognizes that commitment.

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