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Leadville National Fish Hatchery
Mountain-Prairie Region
Graphic button showing the 8 state mountain prairie region

Leadville National Fish Hatchery

2846 Highway 300 | Leadville, CO 80461
Phone: (719) 486-0189 | Email: ed_stege@fws.gov

About the Hatchery

Leadville History | Public Information | Current Issues | Species & Production | Open / Close All

Photo of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS

Photo of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS.

About Us

Leadville National Fish Hatchery (NFH), established in 1889, is the second oldest Federally operated fish hatchery in existence today. Leadville National Fish Hatchery was created by Executive Order of President Benjamin Harrison for the purpose of increasing the supply of fish for inland waters. The hatchery grounds occupy 3,072 acres near the city of Leadville, Colorado, at an elevation of 10,000 feet. The hatchery’s subalpine forest surroundings, with its cold, clean water supply provide the ideal location for trout production.

Originally, the hatchery produced trout that were distributed over the entire Rocky Mountain region. Waters which originally held only native cutthroat trout, or none at all, were stocked with additional trout. The Black Hills area and parts of Wyoming that held no native trout were first stocked from this hatchery.


Leadville History »

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Leadville History: (Photos clockwise from left) Leadville historic hatchery building, Historic fish spawning photo, Historic raceways photo.

Leadville History: (Photos clockwise from left) Leadville historic hatchery building, Historic fish spawning photo, Historic raceways photo. Credit: USFWS.

In 1888, the U.S. Fish Commissioner began looking for a site in the Rocky Mountain Region that would be suitable for propagating game fish and replenishing the dwindling number of fish used as a food source. A site at the base of 14,000 foot Mt. Massive was chosen for its cold, clean water supply and nearby sources of native Cutthroat trout. It was at this location that the Leadville National Fish Hatchery was built, Congress having appropriated $15,000 for the facility.

Transporting fish in the early days was not a simple matter of loading them onto trucks and driving them to a destination. “State-of-the-art” shipments were done via train car. In 1881, federally-raised fish traveled first class in rail cars designed for their health and comfort - along with their human attendants. By the turn of the century, their was a fleet of these specially designed train cars in use throughout the United States. But not all fish traveled via luxury train cars. Many still reached their destinations traveling in milk cans via horse and wagon. The trip was often perilous and fraught with danger. Such was the report from an employee in 1898 - “first (one can) slid off the wagon and a very few (fish) were spilled; then the top flew out when the mule jumped over a log, -and we lost possibly a couple of hundred, then the rope came out of the handle and the top flew off again but only a few got out . . . " Time brings progress, however, and today fish are stocked using tank trucks and sometimes helicopters.

Today, 125 years after its beginning, the Leadville National Fish Hatchery continues to fulfill its role in providing trout for sportsmen and women throughout the Rocky Mountain Region. The actual anniversary is April 19, 2014; however the celebration will be held on July 26, 2014. The hatchery still welcomes visitors. As in the early days, they are able to learn about “fish farming," as well as enjoy picnics and hikes on the many trails that meander through the 3,072 acres of hatchery property. During the late fall and winter months, many visitors enjoy snow shoeing and cross-country skiing in the quiet forests above the hatchery.

The main building, still in use today, was constructed of native red sandstone. It required over 30 stonemasons, and was described, in a news article of the day, as “the most magnificent building in western Colorado.” Another article stated, “The hatchery promises to be a great resort for sightseers and those desiring to observe the great insights of “fish farming.” In fact, then, as now, encouraging visitors was a high priority. The grounds were planned and maintained with an eye to attracting visitors, and it was noted that they would “always be welcomed and every courtesy shown to them.” This beautiful stone hatchery building was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in the 1970's. The view from the front of the hatchery remains as beautiful as it was in 1889 - perhaps more so. Seen off in the distance, the city of Leadville is surrounded, once again, by the growth of pine forests that were depleted for construction and mine timbers during the silver boom of the late 1800's.

The raising of trout at the hatchery began even before the completion of the main building. Eggs collected from trout from several high Colorado lakes were incubated in a temporary building during the fall of 1889. In 1891, the first distribution of fingerling fish was made to lakes and streams in Colorado, South Dakota, and Nebraska. A newspaper article from 1910 reported that “the usual of brook trout was successfully made to Argentina. Rainbow eggs were forwarded to Germany and to the private preserves of his Imperial Majesty, the Mikado of Japan, while spawn of the native trout has been forwarded to France.” Native trout were also sent all over the United States from Maine to Washington, including Wyoming, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada.


Public Information »

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  • Spectators and supporters line the streets of Leadville National Fish Hatchery for the Leadville Trail 100 run. Credit: USFWS.

    Spectators and supporters line the streets of Leadville National Fish Hatchery for the Leadville Trail 100 run. Credit: USFWS.

  • The annual Pathways to Fishing is a 10-station program that teaches kids the skills needed to become successful fishermen.
Credit: Ed Stege / USFWS

    The annual Pathways to Fishing is a 10-station program that teaches kids the skills needed to become successful fishermen. Credit: Ed Stege / USFWS.

  • Trailhead sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS.

    Trailhead sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS.

  • Trailhead sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS.

    Trailhead sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine / USFWS.

  • Picnic pavillion. Credit: USFWS.

    Picnic pavillion. Credit: USFWS.

Leadville National Fish Hatchery provides many exciting visitor opportunities, as well as gives back to the local communities. Open to the public, the hatchery welcomes visitors for a closeup view of the fish production process. With over 36,000 visitors annually, the dedicated volunteer hosts at the Visitor Center bring the hatchery experience alive. Tours are available by appointment to organized groups.

In addition to the hatchery experience, visitors also have a bounty of nearby recreational opportunities to explore:

  • Fish viewing and feeding
  • Nature trails
  • Hiking trails
  • Greenback cutthroat trout fishery (hiking required)
  • Picnic/playground area
  • Wildlife and birdwatching
  • Photography
  • Wilderness access
  • Mountain hiking
  • Cross country skiing
  • Snowshoeing

Leadville acts as a main trailhead access into the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area, with access to the 14,000 foot peak, Mt. Massive. There are many hiking opportunities with the Rock Creek, Highline, and Kearney Park Trails all originating on hatchery grounds. These three trails intersect with the Colorado Trail in the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area, offering different routes to hike a loop starting and ending on the hatchery.

Be sure to bring your binoculars for the spectacular wildlife viewing, such as mountain blue birds, juncos, jays, hawks, eagles, waterfowl, elk, deer, porcupines, fox and pine martins.

Educational programs/tours are provided for the public and school groups during business hours by appointment.

The hatchery also participates in local public outreach activities, such as the Annual 5th grade Pathways to Fishing Program, and supports local community activities, such as the Fish Hatchery 5K running race.

Partnerships with Friends of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery, Lake County, Trout Unlimited, U.S. Forest Service and Colorado Outward Bound School continue to help provide many recreational opportunities for visitors.


Current Issues »

Don't spread disease sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine/ USFWS

Don't spread disease sign. Credit: Stephanie Raine/ USFWS.

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Since the discovery of whirling disease in 1995, the hatchery has undergone numerous renovations. All earthen bottom ponds are no longer used for trout production due to contamination from whirling disease. To make up for lost production capacity eight new concrete raceways were built for trout rearing. A water treatment plant was also built in 2004 to further combat whirling disease. The plant houses two drum filters, two disc filters, and four UV radiators which remove any whirling disease from the water source. Since 2006, the hatchery has been certified whirling disease free.

Don't Spread Whirling Disease
Don't transport fish - live or dead
from one body of water to another

Don't dispose of fish entrails
into any body of water

Don't Spread Whirling Disease
Remove all mud from boat, trailer,
waders, and fish gear

Drain all water from boat, coolers
and other equipment before leaving fishing access site


Species & Production »

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Leadville Species and Production: (Photos clockwise from left) Loading fish into a truck, Trout in raceway, View from inside the hatchery

Leadville Species and Production: (Photos clockwise from left) Loading fish into a truck, Trout in raceway, View from inside the hatchery

To meet the trout production demands, Leadville National Fish Hatchery facilities include 16 raceways and 20 nursery tanks. Leadville National Fish Hatchery is currently rearing Snake River cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and greenback cutthroat trout to fill needs throughout Colorado. These fish help to replenish and encourage sustainable trout populations and provide angling opportunities for recreational users like you!

As the aquatic habitat changes from natural (drought, flood, habitat destruction) or human influences (over-harvest, pollution, habitat loss due to development and dam construction), the natural production of fish declines. The stocking of fish is one of the many management strategies used by biologists to help replenish the populations for years to come. In recent years, Leadville National Fish Hatchery has provided between 125,000 and 200,000 fish annually to support fishing in the Fryingpan-Arkansas drainage and throughout Colorado.

Leadville's efforts also support recovery of the four endangered fishes in the Colorado River. To meet the trout production demands, Leadville National Fish Hatchery facilities include 16 raceways and 20 nursery tanks. Over 55,000 angler days of recreational fishing in Colorado valued at over $2,740,000 are a result of the stocking efforts!

Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Credit: USFWS.

Greenback Cutthroat Trout. Credit: USFWS.

Cutthroat trout native to Colorado evolved in high mountain streams. With its cold clean water supply the Leadville National Fish Hatchery is ideally suited to help restore depleted native cutthroat populations. Currently the Hatchery has the main brood stock for the Bear Creek greenback cutthroat. Bear Creek is the sole remaining wild population of cutthroat trout that genetically match South Platte drainage museum specimens from the late 1800’s. Progeny from the captive broodfish held at Leadville National Fish Hatchery will be used to establish additional populations of this extremely rare fish.

As the aquatic habitat changes from natural (drought, flood, habitat destruction) or human influences (energy development, pollution, habitat loss due to development) some important native cutthroat populations are put in potential jeopardy. Working with Colorado Parks and Wildlife, the hatchery also maintains other native cutthroat stocks in refugia ensuring that should something happen to the wild populations the genetics of the native trout are protected.

Leadville’s efforts also support recovery of the four endangered fishes in the Colorado River. Through an agreement with Colorado Parks and Wildlife we raise production rainbow trout for stocking in lieu of the State continuing past fishery practices which impacted the endangered fishes. These fish help to replenish and encourage sustainable trout populations and provide angling opportunities for recreational users.

The mission of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is working with Others to conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife, plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American People.
Last modified: April 08, 2015
All Images Credit to and Courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Unless Specified Otherwise.
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