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The La Grande Observer Paper 08/27/14

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Of dams and dynamite

This is how one of the buildings that was part of the old Union fish hatchery complex looked when the facility was operating from the early 1920s to 1937 - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
This is how one of the buildings that was part of the old Union fish hatchery complex looked when the facility was operating from the early 1920s to 1937 - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
The buildings stand quietly and inauspiciously today east of Union on Highway 203, housing Oregon State Parks equipment and facilities.

No obvious evidence exists indicating that the structures were once linked to a violent chapter in Union's history.

The tale begins in the early 1920s when the buildings were constructed for a new state fish hatchery. Trout were raised there and then stocked in area streams and high mountain lakes in the Wallowas.

Trout anglers had reason to celebrate. Some salmon fishermen had reason to reach for dynamite.

The hatchery sparked a furor because its operators needed water from Catherine Creek to successfully raise trout. A small dam was built in Catherine Creek to divert water to the hatchery.

This dam was built in Catherine Creek in the early 1920s to divert water into a state fish hatchery just east of Union. - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
This dam was built in Catherine Creek in the early 1920s to divert water into a state fish hatchery just east of Union. - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
The dam angered some because it prevented many salmon from continuing their migrations up Catherine Creek. Salmon runs in east Catherine Creek, which had been bountiful, were diminished.

Some salmon anglers made their feelings known in not-so-diplomatic fashion.

They tried to blow the dam up with dynamite, said Jerry Gildemeister, a La Grande publisher and author.

Night watchmen had to be posted to protect the dam. Those who served as guards included the late Dick Bonney, son of the hatchery's director, the late R.H. Bonney.

Although the dam escaped damage thanks to the efforts of the Bonneys and others, there were some close calls. Dick Bonney told Gildemeister that at least once someone floated a piece of lit dynamite near the dam. The dynamite exploded, sending water high into the night air but did no damage.

Despite such explosive protests the dam remained in place through the late 1930s. It was removed after the hatchery closed in 1937.

Trout raised at Union's former hatchery are released in Northeast Oregon at least 70 years ago. Many trout raised at the hatchery were stocked in high mountain lakes in the Wallowas. - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
Trout raised at Union's former hatchery are released in Northeast Oregon at least 70 years ago. Many trout raised at the hatchery were stocked in high mountain lakes in the Wallowas. - Photo courtesy of Jerry Gildemeister and from the Dick Bonney collection
The hatchery was shut down not due to angry salmon anglers but poor water quality, said Gildemeister, who is best known for his successful Bear Wallow Publishing Co. which he and his wife, Cathy, founded in 1976.

Jerry Gildemeister explained that the water the Union hatchery received from Catherine Creek declined dramatically in the 1930s because of increasing silt. Road construction in the forests of east Union County caused an increasing amount of silt to run into Catherine Creek.

The closure temporarily shut down a complex, which had three large buildings plus a large house and a small home for staff. The large house was later torn down, and the smaller one was moved into Union.

One of the hatchery's large buildings was demolished. But the two others still stand in their original location, said Kathleen Edvalson-Almquist of Union, a cultural researcher.

The two buildings, still in their original location, are less than 100 yards east of the Union Sportmans Club.

 
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