PERRY — In its planning stages, the Go Fish Education Center looked as though it would be a building and a few ponds.
What has been built, however, is a 30,000-square-foot building, 200,000-gallon aquarium and interactive exhibits that showcase Georgia’s fish population.
The $18 million project aims to promote fishing tourism in Georgia and has a message of education conservation for Georgia’s waterways.
The new facility, located next to the Georgia National Fairgrounds and Agricenter in Perry, will have its ribbon cutting Thursday at 2:30 p.m.
The education center is the cornerstone of a larger, about $30 million Go Fish Georgia Initiative proposed by Gov. Sonny Perdue in 2007 with the intent of luring tourists and fishing enthusiasts to the state.
The facility is expected to attract 100,000 visitors annually and have a $6.3 million economic impact in Houston County each year, said Lauren Curry, public affairs director at the state Department of Natural Resources.
Bert Brantley, Perdue’s director of communications, explained that when considering the project, the Governor’s Office looked at other state programs that produced revenue and found Georgia’s fishing programs were lacking.
“It didn’t make sense that Georgia wasn’t a leader” in the fishing industry, Brantley said.
Funding for the project’s $18 million price tag included $14 million from the state’s fiscal 2008 budget. Houston County and the city of Perry donated $500,000 each, and the Houston County Development Authority chipped in $1.5 million. Private donations covered the rest of the cost, with Georgia Power contributing $1 million as the lead corporate sponsor, Curry said.
Center home to about 1,400 fish
The Go Fish Education Center showcases native Georgia fish species.
The building boasts a classroom, which will have a wildlife expert conduct classes a few days a week, as well as interactive exhibits, a state-of-the-art fish hatchery and a movie theater that shows an eight-minute film about fishing in Georgia. The building is LEED-certified, meaning it has been built with environmentally friendly materials and uses water and electric conservation methods.
Take a stroll outside, and the sidewalk’s elevation changes from the north Georgia mountain streams full of rainbow trout and walleye to the swamplands near the coast with its American shad and crappie.
The mountain pond is cooled to a 65-degree temperature so the trout will survive during Middle Georgia’s hot summer months, said Ted Will, regional manager for the state Department of Natural Resources
Small tanks on the opposite side of the large tanks feature some lesser known species such as hellbenders and robust redhorse.
Further down the path is the upper Piedmont pool. Will expects interest in this pool will be the greatest as it represents Middle Georgia waterways.
Passing through the Piedmont pond brings visitors to the blackwater area of Georgia, similar to the Ogeechee River region.
There will be American eels on display in a separate tank in the same area. All together, about 1,400 fish will be on display at the center, Will said.
The end of the outdoor exhibit features four American alligators, the biggest being about 5 feet long.
Back inside, visitors can participate in a simulated fishing experience either on the freshwater lakes or the coastal salt waters off Georgia’s coast.
A stocked pond sits outside of the interactive room where children will be able to test their skills with rented fishing poles. The pond will be stocked with bass but might have rainbow trout during the winter months, Will said.
Windows at the fish hatchery allow guests to see what happens during spawning season, and a few see-through tanks let people glimpse striped bass and dinosaur-like sturgeon.
There is also a plan to have trophy fish on display. These large record-breaking fish will be used to improve fish quality in lakes around the state.
Will said the hatchery will request trophy fish be brought to the center to be bred. The fish produced from those genetics will be a higher quality and will be released back into lakes around the state.
Those sites would be prime areas for fishing tournaments, which can bring revenues topping $5 million to the local economy, according state estimates. Estimates from the FLW Tour tournament at Lake Lanier in August show the economic impact of the tournament at $20 million, Brantley said.
Perry Mayor Jimmy Faircloth said the Go Fish Education Center will be a boon not only to Perry but to the whole state.
“The hatchery will supply fish for locations throughout the state,” Faircloth said.
To contact writer Angela Woolen, call 923-5650.