New McKenzie Fish Hatchery center expected to bring tourists to Lane County

Local groups are planning a construction project for the Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery. They want to build an interpretive center for tourists. (SBG photo)

WALTERVILLE, Ore. - The Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery is getting an upgrade. It's a project 30 years in the making.

Planners behind the additions and renovations hope it will breathe new life into a once bustling town.

The project is predicted to bring 35,000 to 50,000 visitors to the Lane County region annually.

"[The region] all kind of collapsed,” said Steve Mealey, president of the McKenzie River Guides Association. “The dams were finished and the logging industry, federal logging industry declined."

Friends of the Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery and the McKenzie River Guides Association are part of the team making this dream come true.

“This is what someone would see in 1905," said Ken Engleman, president of the Friends of the Old McKenzie Fish Hatchery.

Ken described the plans for the 30,00 to 40,000 square foot facility called the McKenzie River Interpretive Center.

"It's not just constructing new things, but we want to restore what was here on the site,” Engleman said.

Mealey called the interpretive center a soon to be "world class destination attraction."

Both men said they're trying not to over-sell the plans.

"We wanted to go slow and not make promises we couldn't keep," said Mealey.

So far, the renderings and the plans are captivating.

"You'll notice that this is living water here underneath the pavilion," said Mealey, pointing to the diagrams.

"Everybody I talk to ends up grinning about it," said Engleman.

From a zip line, to a pavilion in the shape of a McKenzie boat, the center will highlight the McKenzie River geology, fish, and boat history.

With $100,000 they have the first three planning phases complete.

Step one was contracting with the community planning workshop at the University of Oregon.

Step two was planning more and propping the project to the Lane County Advisory board. The board unanimously approved the project and agreed to a 99-year lease on the property.

Then, step three was creating the digital and paper displays of what the building will look like.

The next step for the McKenzie River Interpretive Center is getting their business plan set. Planners for the interpretive center have already applied for grants to develop their business plan. One application is for $50,000 through Travel Oregon.

After that, they hope to have the actual facility open by the year 2021. Then they will begin fundraising for the project.

RELATED | 'You bet we're worried': River guides concerned about future of Leaburg hatchery

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