Sept. 20 IssueBy Derek AaronRussell County News Editor
After getting the opportunity to move here from Arkansas more than 14 years ago, James Gray has had a major impact on growth at and the popularity of the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery, thus making him this week’s “Russell County Hero.”
Gray, the hatchery’s project manager, has a degree in fisheries and wildlife management from Arkansas Tech University which allows him to be either a fisheries or wildlife biologist and worked for the Corps of Engineers as a park ranger while attending college.
“I had a chance to get on with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service in Arkansas at Greer’s Ferry National Fish Hatchery,” Gray said. He said he worked there for two years before transferring to another national fish hatchery in Arkansas, Mammoth Spring, where he again had a two-year stay.
“When you first start out at an entry level position they like to move you around to get different experience,” he said.
When he was asked to move by his superiors he wondered, at first, where the opportunity would take him. Gray said that many hatchery project managers retired in the early 90’s due to a buyout program the government had implemented and the service was looking to fill all those vacant slots with younger up-and-coming personnel.
Finally, one day his manager let him know that he would be making the move to Wolf Creek in Kentucky.
“When I moved here, I didn’t have any reservations about it,” he said. “The part of Arkansas where I grew up looked a whole lot like this area right here. There was a big lake there and a dam and a fish hatchery below it.”
He said growing up Greer’s Ferry in northern Arkansas, the countryside and the rural lifestyle was very similar to the one here.
“I feel like I fit in here pretty well and I didn’t have any problems moving here,” he said. “I didn’t have any big culture shock or anything.”
Gray moved a single man but would soon find love in the former Lori Radford. Gray would eventually marry Lori, who now is employed at Jamestown Elementary.
He now has two children with Lori, Hunter, a 4th grader, and Haley, a 2nd grader, who attend Jamestown Elementary.
Gray is very active in the community. He helps coach his children’s baseball and basketball teams, is a member of the Chamber of Commerce and is on the tourism board. He said he also enjoys hunting, fishing and just being outdoors on his farm.
“If you get out and try to fit in, people accept you more,” he said. “A lot of people move to a new place and they don’t fit in and a lot of it is their own fault.”
Gray said that before the visitor’s center was built, 90 percent of his job focused on fish production.
He said his job is now mostly administrative as he manages budgets and personnel and being the liaison to the Fish and Wildlife Services’ regional office in Atlanta and the Washington office.
If his work becomes too stressed, Gray said he sometimes takes short walks to enjoy the scenery and nature itself at the hatchery.
In April of last year, the hatchery officially dedicated the Wolf Creek National Fish Hatchery Visitor and Environmental Education Center. The center contains exhibits, a classroom, an indoor theater, a gift shop and large native species aquariums.
Gray said the center’s objective is to provide outreach programs and workshops for educating youth on environmental and conservation issues.
“We get over 100,000 visitors a year so it is very well utilized,” he said. “Our fishing derbies, most notably the Catch-a-Rainbow, and other events seem to draw people in.” He also said the campground next door helps business.
He said the drawdown of Lake Cumberland due to the rehabilitation project on leaky Wolf Creek Dam hadn’t impacted tourism numbers at the hatchery and visitor center but did dramatically affect the fish production program as the hatchery had to have pumps installed to help stream cold river water to the hatchery for its fish production program. Before the hatchery got the cool water from the lake before it was lowered.
The coming weeks will be busy at the hatchery as a number of new and special events will take place.
On September 23, Clinton County’s 6th grade will be having a Conservation Day at the hatchery and visitor’s center with stations concerning conservation and wildlife.
Then on the following day, Sept. 24, the hatchery will be hosting a senior fishing event from 9 a.m. to noon at Hatchery Creek with lunch afterward, according to Gray. The first-time event is called the Catch-A-Smile fishing derby and is for anyone 62 and up.
On Sept. 25, the hatchery is hosting Reaching for Rainbows for the disabled children of Russell and Clinton counties. The hatchery worked through the school systems on the event and has pre-registered the children. The children will fish from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. with each students receiving a medallion and a t-shirt.
In October, the hatchery is organizing their second annual outdoor conservation day for Russell County’s fourth grade students, much like what Clinton County’s students will be doing this month.
The hatchery, constructed in 1975, has also received a $2,500 grant to implement a fishing program in Russell County’s schools. The money helped to buy fishing gear such as rods and reels. Gray said it was his hope that the schools physical education classes will begin with fishing lessons in a few weeks. The classes will be given in 6-week increments.
In cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources, the hatchery’s trout are stocked into 100 different public fishing waters in the state.