By Trent Moore
The Cullman Times
For two decades, Sammy Lee has been asked why the sport of Bass Fishing doesn’t have its own hall of fame.
Now, he finally has an answer: “It does.”
Lee, president of the Bass Fishing Hall of Fame, spoke to Cullman residents Friday at a Cullman Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon about the proposed hall of fame and education center currently in the works with the City of Cullman.
“Our goal will be to educate everyone who walks through the door about not only the joy of fishing, but also an appreciation of the great outdoors,” Lee said. “We want to spread the gospel of bass fishing. This is so much more than just a hall of fame.”
The proposed $17 million facility will include a 56,250-square-foot civic center, 30,900-sqaure-foot hall of fame, an aquarium, gift shop and exhibit space. The city will cover the majority of construction costs, though the hall of fame is ramping up a several-month fundraising drive in an effort to generate approximately $5 million of the cost. Officials hope the facility will open in early 2015.
It will be constructed at the city-owned Burrow Property on County Road 222. The state recently announced plans to add an Interstate 65 interchange approximately one mile from the proposed site, which officials say was a major factor in the recruitment.
Lee announced the hall of fame is in negotiations with Auburn University’s fisheries program to help host a research center at the facility, which could provide information on environmental science and projects for visitors.
“That’s something we’re working on and we’re really excited about, and it lets me know fishing is still the sport I developed a passion for at the age of 12,” he said. “We hope to have an ongoing center where grad students could be positioned, which could also be used as a recruitment tool to get young people come through and understand fisheries.”
A fish camp is also a major part of the project, which would train children and parents in proper fishing and wildlife management practices. The hall of fame also hopes to offer day-trips for students.
“I was never fortunate enough to have children, but I’ve watched kids forever and I know the appreciation kids have for angling,” Lee said. “I also know more kids would get involved if single-parent families and inner-city families had a stronger appreciation for fishing. Many children don’t go because their parents are intimidated by it and don’t know how to do it. So we want to be a place where we can teach everything you need to know about fishing, from A to Z, based on age and skill level.”
Lee said early projections show the hall of fame could be a massive tourist attraction for Cullman, and he believes it will attract more than 250,000 visitors per year.
“That’s a lot of people, and they’ll more than likely stop and spend the night here, buy goods here and eat dinner here,” Lee said. “I think we’ll make a huge, multi-million dollar impact on the community. Every site that has presented itself since we started looking in 1999, and I’ve been to all of them, and I promise no place in America can top this community.”
Trent Moore can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com, or by telephone at 734-2131, ext. 220.