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New Conservation Center

Outdoor education gets a big boost with a 14,000-square-foot facility in Athens.

By Larry D. Hodge

About 250 people gathered at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center in Athens April 14 for the official opening of the Richard M. Hart and Johnny Morris Conservation Center, which houses classroom space, offices, a conference center and a game warden museum.

Funding for the $2.1 million facility came from private sources. Leading the fundraising effort was Richard M. “Dick” Hart of Dallas, who organized Schooling for Bass as a unit of the Friends of TFFC. “In Texas, the volunteer program really works. You ask for people’s help, and they respond,” Hart said. “A 14,000-square-foot building anywhere wouldn’t raise an eyebrow, but a 14,000-square-foot building for outdoor education should raise two eyebrows. To my knowledge, there is nothing else like it in the United States.”

Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris provided $650,000 for construction in the form of a challenge grant. The 1986 state record largemouth bass was given to Bass Pro Shops for display in its store in Springfield, Missouri.

“That fish was one of our biggest motivations for support for this building,” Morris noted. “She was the best thing that ever happened to Bass Pro Shops, as far as getting people in there. She was an awesome tribute to the efforts here and an unbelievable inspiration to a lot of folks.”

Morris also praised TPWD for its management of natural resources.

“When it comes to managing fish and wildlife, TPWD does an incredible job, and it goes beyond Texas,” he said. “What happens in Athens at this facility has a huge impact on the outdoors, on fishing and especially on bass fishing. Our support for this was not inspired by the opportunity to make a speech or have our name on a plaque. It comes with high hopes for the future that you will keep on inspiring everybody, especially the next generation, to enjoy the outdoors and to have respect for fish and wildlife.”

“The center is the next step, our next big challenge. Having this building will give us the opportunity to do a much better job of education,” said Allen Foshage, director of the center.

For more information, visit <www.tpwd.state.tx.us/tffc> or call (903) 676-2277.

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