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Glenwood Hatchery’s fish still in the swim

Tamie Meck

If the Glenwood Hatchery would have burned to the ground when fire struck Saturday evening, it would have cost somewhere between $6 million and $8 million to replace the structures, hatchery manager Rich Kolecki estimated.

“As far as the fish,” said Kolecki Thursday afternoon, “you could give me $6 million to $8 million, and I couldn’t go buy them.”

The Colorado Division of Wildlife state trout hatchery and rearing unit located on Mitchell Creek raises fish for stocking reservoirs, lakes and streams throughout Colorado.

Kolecki said he watched the smoke rising from South Canyon throughout Saturday afternoon. About 5 p.m., he asked his wife, Laura, if she’d like to go take a closer look. They drove to New Castle, and in the time it took them to drive back to Glenwood Springs, the fire had jumped the Colorado River.

Still not overly concerned, since they had been through the same experience with the 1994 Storm King Fire, the Koleckis sat down to dinner. Just then, their neighbor notified them that the fire had reached the bottom of Mitchell Creek and was heading their way.

“That’s impossible,” Kolecki recalled saying, “we just drove by it.”

Rich set as many gravity sprinklers as possible while Laura grabbed important papers and possessions, and they drove up Mitchell Creek Road toward Storm King Ranch.

“The last I saw the hatchery, fire was all around,” said Kolecki. “I said, `That’s it.'”

Through luck and hard work by firefighters, the hatchery received only minor damage. No fish were lost. A storage shed burned down, but a structure about 15 feet away, one of the first built at the hatchery, was saved by firefighters.

“Put a lot of atta-boys in for those fire boys,” said Kolecki.

Fingers of scorched land reach from the valley walls above Mitchell Creek toward the structures of the hatchery. Most of the buildings were completed in 1930, others were built in the past year. Fire came within about 20 feet of the main hatchery building, charring a wooden retaining wall. But the building itself showed no signs of damage.

That building is vital to the hatchery’s operations. It houses some 350,000 Colorado River rainbow, 250,000 Colorado River cutthroat – a pure strain of native cutthroat which has been petitioned to be on the endangered species list – and 300,000 threatened and endangered greenback cutthroat taken from Colorado’s Front Range. Also housed are millions of eggs.

About a half million Colorado River cutthroat eggs will be taken today to a newly constructed isolation chamber at the Rifle Falls Hatchery, said Kolecki.

If the main hatchery had burned, Kolecki said it would take at least six years to bring operations back to their current state.

Some Mitchell Creek neighbors weren’t so fortunate. Upstream, five structures were completely lost. Downstream, numerous homes along Mitchell Creek Road were also destroyed. Others, like the hatchery, stood virtually unscathed.

As pleased as he is that the hatchery is intact, Kolecki expressed his deepest regrets for his neighbors.

While the fire danger is mostly passed, another threat exists.

“The main concern now is the drainage,” said Kolecki. “It’s going to start producing debris.”

If it rains a little bit, no problem, he said. But a heavy thunderstorm could bring down too much debris for the hatchery to handle.

The hatchery was already dealing with drought conditions and the possibility that Mitchell Creek could dry up.

The hatchery was working to remove fish for stocking three to four weeks earlier than usual. That process is being hurried even more now, said Kolecki. The brood stock, the fish that lay eggs, also are of immediate concern, said Kolecki.

DOW is working on a contingency plan in case of a heavy debris flow, said Kolecki.

Kolecki said rain would be a big relief.

“But just a little rain,” he pleaded to the sky, “just a little.”


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