MILLEN, Ga. - The Georgia Department of Natural Resources turned a federal liability into a state asset last year when its Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division acquired the Bo Ginn National Fish Hatchery on Highway 25 near here.
The hatchery, named in honor of former Congressman Ronald "Bo" Ginn, was closed because of federal cutbacks. Under a three-year agreement signed last October, the federal government will fund 100 percent of the cost of operating the facility for the first year, 80 percent the second year and 40 percent the third year.
Now called the Bo Ginn Aquarium and Aquatic Education Center, the division is going ahead with plans to convert the site into a regional education center.
"I'm sure happy about all this," said Donald Patrick, manager at Magnolia Springs State Park located adjacent to the former hatchery. "The hatchery has always been a big drawing card for our park. We're keeping Mr. Ginn's name on it because as a congressman, he did a lot for Millen and folks in the area.
"People always have happy memories about it. We had a call from a Virginia woman who had visited our park as a child. She wanted to make sure the park and aquarium were still here because she wanted her daughter to see them."
The aquarium, which underwent a $200,000 renovation while still under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, features 25 tanks containing an amazing variety of fish and reptiles.
Overseeing operations of the aquarium is Scott Morgan, a Georgia Southern University graduate with a Bachelor of Science degree in biology.
Since the facility will be geared as an educational center, Morgan has sent letters to science teachers at schools in 15 surrounding counties asking for input on what they would like their students to learn.
"Schools can call at any time for more information," said Morgan. The park number is 1 (912) 982-1660.
Patrick, Morgan, Billy Townsend of the Parks, Recreation and Historic Sites Division, Carlos Echevarria of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and Chris Martin of the Wildlife Resources Division have been working on plans for the center.
"We're going to be featuring about 90 percent species of fish, amphibians and reptiles native to Georgia in the aquarium," said Morgan.
"Themes such as `Fishes of the Savannah River,' `Fishes of the Ogeechee River' and `Fishes of the Altamaha River' will be followed," said Morgan. "We'll also have displays of endangered species such as the shortnosed sturgeon and robust redhorse sucker."
Patrick pointed out that fishing also will be emphasized at the center with kids' events scheduled at times like National Fishing Day in June.
"We don't plan to just turn the kids loose. We'll show them how to cast and how to tie the proper knots, things like that."