Don’t let the cold weather keep you indoors. Visit a National Fish Hatchery and enjoy the winter activities they have to offer. From peaceful and scenic to fun and strenuous, there is a little something for everyone, all while social distancing.
The Simpson Trail System at Iron River National Fish Hatchery in Wisconsin is an excellent location to enjoy the outdoors. The system is a collection of trails totaling just over three miles that meander throughout the 1,200-acre property consisting of forested hardwoods and conifers. The trails are maintained year round, and hatchery staff groom the trail system during the winter for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing. The trail system provides a unique perspective into the winter landscape of the Northland.
These activities are not only a great way to escape cabin fever, but can also be a great way to view breathtaking winter scenery; figuratively and literally, as temperatures can reach -20ᵒ Fahrenheit in the winter time at the hatchery. Along the trail system, chances are good you might see tracks from white-tailed deer, bobcats, coyotes, squirrels, snowshoe hares, turkeys, and grouse.
At Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado you can enjoy two winter favorites, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Once you park your car at the hatchery, head over to the information kiosk. Here you can find copies of Leadville’s Trail System maps. Enjoy the trails but remember your point of entry is just below 10,000 feet in elevation where the weather and conditions can change in a matter of minutes. Plan accordingly and let someone know what your route and expected return time will be.
Not only do national fish hatcheries work with diverse fish and aquatic species populations, many of the properties have wildlife and bird viewing opportunities. Because of ponds and other areas where fish are kept, hatcheries can be a water source as well as a place to catch a tasty fish snack for birds and wildlife. When you visit D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives in South Dakota, be on the lookout for eagles, turkey, geese, deer, ducks, and other wildlife that frequent the property.
Mountains, hills, streams, or ponds can be seen on or near most hatchery properties. At Quilcene National Fish Hatchery in Washington, the views are amazing every direction you look. Not only is there a great view of the Olympic National Forest but winter is the time of year to observe both eggs and hatched alevin (sac fry). Also, there could be some adult coho still spawning in the side channel adjacent to the hatchery grounds. Eagles will be winging their way up and down the course of the Big Quilcene River, feeding on the carcasses of these late-running coho, and often perched in the trees on and near the hatchery grounds. There are common mergansers on the main river, great blue herons prowling the shallows, and American dippers plying their trade among the shoreline and from the little islands created by the tops of exposed rocks.
No matter the time of year, whether standing on a creek bank or frozen lake, fishing can be a fun and memorable experience. Several national fish hatcheries do allow fishing but please call or check their websites for those that provide fishing opportunities.
Note: While many hatcheries are open to the public, call ahead for business hours and to see what the availability is at this time.
Since 1871 the National Fish Hatchery system has been at work improving recreational fishing and restoring aquatic species that are in decline or at risk. Across the country the network of National Fish Hatcheries work with states and tribes to conserve, restore and enhance the fish and aquatic resources of America for future generations. More than one million people visit a National Fish Hatchery every year to fish, hunt, hike, go birdwatching, and simply enjoy the outdoors. Find a hatchery near you.
Story by Denise Wagner, Outreach/Education for the Fish and Aquatic Conservation program.