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Hometown Hero: Trout center is continuation of career

PRESTON — George Spangler had his retirement all planned out — a lot of trout fishing around Preston, some gardening, some relaxing and a bit of foraging the local woods for food.

He retired from teaching fisheries biology and other courses at the University of Minnesota in 2009. He and his wife, Kay Spangler, already had a home in Preston where she owned an antique store. He loved to fish in the area, things were all set.

Then he heard that the Preston Economic Development Authority was looking for ways to attract people to the area and also teach them about the local streams and geology. Spangler was asked to help.

"At first, I thought, why not? I would still have time to fish," he said. "It was kind of a natural thing for me to gravitate toward."

He was soon the head of a steering committee that recommended Preston build the National Trout Center there.


The center now has a storefront in downtown Preston, with plans for a $4.5 million center along the South Branch Root River. The center hopes to get some of that money from the Minnesota Legislature. Spangler is the chairman of the center's board of directors.

He isn't upset that his retirement plans were altered.

He sees his new role as an extension of his old role of teacher. It's just that he has a new venue and new format. But what he wants to teach about streams, ecology, fishing and love of the outdoors … those are much the same,

"I love to teach," said Spangler, who recently moved to Chatfield. "Teaching is a wonderful way to go through life."

The center "is an opportunity for people to learn more about the environment they live in," he said. The hope is they will go beyond learning and fishing to caring enough to help that environment. Loving something is the first step to caring, he said.

Spangler grew up in Colorado and learned to fish from his father, who caught fish during the Depression for food. Spangler came to the U of M in 1978 and was soon taken under the tutelage of professor Tom Waters, who introduced Spangler to camping and fishing in the blufflands.

And now, he's the head of a center that is trying to expose more people to the region. That work takes up to 1,000 hours a year, though his wife believes the number is higher.

Her husband doesn't object.


"I haven't fished quite as much as I thought I would, but I still get out frequently enough," he said.

And there's something else great about his new job — he gets to see children come in and run to an aquarium to see the fish. Spangler delights in their delight. He believes it's natural, something genetic in humans.

"It's an intrinsic character of humans that relates to hunter/gatherer roots," he said.

When they are on the stream, "it gives them a serenity and connection to nature that isn't available with many other outdoor activities," he said.

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