Members of the Preston Chamber of Commerce came together on Wednesday, Jan. 16, for their annual meeting at the Branding Iron Supper Club to reflect on the past year and to look forward to the upcoming year. Most of the excitement in the meeting centered on a presentation given by George Spangler and Heath Sershen of the National Trout Center and an update on the proposed Veteran's Cemetery by County Commissioner Duane Bakke.

National Trout Center

In beginning to speak about the National Trout Center (NTC), Spangler introduced the new director of programs and operations, Heath Sershen, who spoke briefly about what his efforts will be in ensuring the present and future success of the Center.

Spangler told Chamber members that the NTC is looking for business and community assistance for its success and is planning to offer assistance in return.

Among the programs the NTC provided in 2012, such as fly fishing and spin fishing lessons, fly tying workshops and information sessions on edible plants and trout, Spangler highlighted the creation of the nine-hole angling course. He pointed out that each hole teaches a different characteristic to look for in ideal angling spots and was reported to have been good for solo and group lessons as well as friendly competition.

In addition to improving the programs offered through the NTC, a focus this past year was to move forward in the design of a building for the NTC. Through the University of Minnesota's Center for Rural Design, an artist's conception of the building was developed specifically for the proposed site next to the County Highway 17 bridge. Spangler said the design takes into consideration the surrounding geology and the nearby Root River. It also includes a living stream, which would depict trout in a stream environment that shows different characters of a typical trout-inhabited stream.

Director Sershen outlined what the NTC is projected to be able to do for the city and what it has already done. Referencing a survey completed in 2008 on the economic value of the driftless trout, Sershen showed how the economic impact of the trout fishing industry and, specifically, the NTC, was over $400,000 for the past three years. Sershen showed that in those three years there had been a steady increase in dollars coming into the city.

"We think those numbers could increase by 50 percent in the next year," Sershen explained.

Spangler explained that what the NTC is looking for is complete community support, which he said would cause prospective donors to look more seriously at the NTC. He explained that current partnerships are being developed and strengthened with Winona State University, Minnesota Project of Get Outdoors, Minnesota DNR, MinnAqua and Women of Fly Fishers, but that more work needs to be done in order to get programs into K-12 schools.

"We want this NTC to be self sustaining," explained Spangler, "but right now we don't have a fully developed income stream."

He added that if the image of the NTC is developed strongly in the community, they would be able to reach that goal. As for the proposed building, Spangler said they got the project into consideration for the current legislature's bonding bill and that an optimistic guess would have a permanent home for the NTC in five years.

The EDA has been very instrumental in this development, but increased municipal involvement must continue, stressed Spangler. "We're not going to give up," he finished, "we would like the material and moral support so that the surrounding community can see the NTC as something that is worthwhile for them and the city."

Veterans' Cemetery

County Commissioner Duane Bakke explained to the Chamber how the Veterans' Cemetery idea came to be developed, went over the latest developments, and explained how it could possibly impact Preston.

"We've been working on this for a few years now," Bakke explained adding that it was because of a 2009 out-of-the-blue proposal by then Sen. Sharon Erickson Ropes that started it all.

"She noticed that most of the corner of the state was not being served by a nearby cemetery," stated Bakke. The county got agreement from almost every service organization, township, and city for the federal government to look into the land for the cemetery and it was determined by federal engineers that it was a feasible site.

Bakke shared that currently, the proposal ranks as 11th out of 105 applicants, mainly because of the need, feasibility and nature of the project. "We expect to get a formal answer early to mid-summer on if we are being funded," stated Bakke, saying also that he felt really good about the possibility of the cemetery becoming a reality.

Everything would be paid by the federal government and the state would need to appropriate funds every year for the continued maintenance of the cemetery.

Bakke and the other county commissioners had taken a trip up to Little Falls, Minn., last year to see an example of daily operations. There would most likely be around 300 burials per year, which Bakke said would create a great need for service organizations from across the county to be at the ready. Bakke said that businesses would clearly be affected with people traveling to and from the city everyday just for burial ceremonies. Hardware stores, he said, would be one of the most affected. According to representatives in Little Falls, their local hardware business saw a $10,000 per year increase after the cemetery was completed. Bakke explained to the Chamber that the veterans' cemetery has been "something a lot of people have been waiting for."

Other business

Kathy Dahl from Preston Tourism announced that 15,000 visitor guide brochures would be printed for 2013 since the 10,000 they printed last year ran out in October.

The Chamber called all Preston businesses to register their business on the Chamber's website.

Chamber board member Dorrie Besse was thanked for her work in placing the new signage along the bike trail.