Students to build Palisade hatchery

Mike Gross with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service holds a razorback sucker at the Ouray National Fish Hatchery.

If all goes according to plan, an outbuilding at Palisade High School with be teeming with hundreds of razorback suckers a year from now.

Building a high school fish hatchery is the brainchild of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service fish culturist Mike Gross and Palisade High teacher Patrick Steele, who have been working on this project for years.

Gross works in the Grand Valley unit of the Ouray National Fish Hatchery, where thousands of endangered fish are raised every year and released into rivers.

Gross said it's long been a career goal to build a hatchery at a school, where students can experience hands-on learning every day.

"It's an incredible way to inspire a younger generation, getting them into science and in particular fish and fish hatcheries," Gross said. "It's such a grand tool for so many different possibilities to learn from."

The hatchery could offer lessons for math, science, engineering, construction and even art.

While the full-scale hatchery consists of dozen of tanks, Palisade's will be made up of three, 230-gallon tanks that can stock approximately 150 fish each.

Steele said Palisade is a perfect fit for a hatchery, with the Colorado River close to the campus.

"It's a neat opportunity for students to see how that works, to give back to our area and help our Colorado River system be that much more healthy and sustainable," Steele said.

This is the second year of planning for the fish hatchery project, which has been led both years by high school seniors in the International Baccalaureate program for their service project.

Students James Soria and Levi Van Pelt are organizing the project this year, along with support from Steele and a group of parent volunteers.

"We're both pretty passionate about environmental sciences, and so this service project was a chance for us to do something that had a huge benefit to the community and to the environment," Van Pelt said.

After support from the school district in the form of a construction foreman brought the project's price down from $82,000 to $25,000, Van Pelt and Soria are now looking to obtain the final piece of funding in order to start building the hatchery.

Because of the timeline, it's likely that Van Pelt and Soria won't get to do much work with the fish, but both said they don't mind.

"I think being here for the planning and getting it up and running is just as exciting," Van Pelt said. "I don't have to be in Grand Junction to know it's positively affecting the community."

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