2011 FEDERAL LAND MANAGER -- U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE - James Gray

2011 FEDERAL LAND MANAGER -- U.S. FISH AND WILDLIFE SERVICE - James Gray
As the manager of Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery (NFH), James Gray has been the driving force behind one of the largest and most successful volunteer programs in the National Fish Hatchery System. Besides maintaining a demanding fish production program (1 million trout produced per year), James runs a robust conservation education program with innovative projects and immense community involvement. In 2006, Wolf Creek NFH became home to the first Visitor/ Environmental Education Center of its kind located on a working fish hatchery. This facility, which receives 100,000 visitors each year, is staffed year round almost entirely with volunteers. The hatchery logged more than 13,000 volunteer hours in 2010. This amount of volunteer labor, if converted to actual full time positions, would double the hatchery’s staff.

Set in rural and remote Kentucky, the hatchery has a small pool to draw local resources from, but James has managed to maximize the community connections. He has a strong partnership with local schools, the regional tourism commissions, the chambers of commerce, local businesses, civic organizations, other federal agencies, state agencies, and even the regional health department. By using local volunteers, the hatchery partnered with the health department to distribute information to parents about the health benefits of connecting children with nature and the opportunities offered not only by the hatchery, but in their own backyards. Through a partnership with the local library, the hatchery established a family nature club that meets monthly for volunteer-led nature oriented activities to help build an attitude of stewardship. Local schools have made Wolf Creek NFH part of their established field trip schedules where they receive tours and instruction from trained volunteers, and they use environmental education curricula in their classrooms that was developed at the hatchery with the help of talented volunteers.

James spearheaded the formation of one of the country’s first Fisheries Friends Groups, which annually sponsors the largest youth fishing event in the Southeast. The Kids Catch a Rainbow Fishing Derby has been held for more than twenty years at the hatchery. This tremendous volunteer effort harnesses the support of dozens of local sponsors and annually draws around 1500 young anglers and their families, who all receive excellent fishing opportunities, an appreciation for this resource, and outdoor related giveaways and prizes to encourage more time spent on the river. Volunteers also sponsor a fishing event for special needs youth, and another for senior citizens.

Volunteers run the Center’s reception and gift shop, provide hatchery tours, clean and maintain the facility, assist with fish production, plan and coordinate events, and work with schools, among other duties. James strives to find the talents and interests of every volunteer, finding a placement that serves as a win-win. The facility is open every day of the year except Christmas, and a dedicated volunteer is always there to greet visitors. The Center has become a major hub of the Southeast Region’s efforts to connect people with nature—through innovative conservation education programs, and also by creating opportunities for citizens to share their talents through rewarding volunteer experiences.