Mountain-Prairie Region





Vol. II, No. 2.


2. South Dakota's D.C. Booth Hatchery Provides a Pleasant Surprise

Crisp mornings are the best, says Gary Hayes, a Spearfish, S.D., resident who jogs slowly past the sun-lit fish pond. Ducks use the jagged cliffs for high take-offs to glide onto the quite water below. This is the time of day it's silent and calm, Hayes adds.

He's partially right. No children or families are to be seen or heard, but there is a noisy cacophony from honking ducks and splashing fish -- the impatient residents of Hatchery Gulch. These creatures are awaiting the return of their two-legged terrestrial feeders, usually loyal children who are convinced the fish and ducks need one more handful of duck bread and fish food. "The ducks are much gooder than anything else," says Meg Burton, an excited three-year-old who's pointing to the nearby waddling baby ducks .

It's springtime in Spearfish, a small South Dakota town that's off the beaten path. Visitors will come as temperatures rise. And many of the unsuspecting will be pleasantly surprised to find one of the oldest hatcheries in the West, the nationally significant D.C. Booth Hatchery operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS). Aside from its historical significance, the facility has become an important tool in recounting the history of fish culture in America.

Walking across the facility's wooden bridge is like walking back in time. In the early 1900s, D.C. Booth, first superintendent of the Spearfish hatchery, donned his waders and began scooping hundreds of fish from ponds to transport them by railcar to streams throughout the Black Hills.

The old bridge is a natural place from which to listen to Spearfish Creek splashing over rough rocks. It's also a place to watch for renegade brown and rainbow trout trying to swim their way out to the vicinity of anglers' lines. The time-honored practice of fishing in Spearfish Creek is special for visitors, who find that odds are good they can actually land "the big one."

But seeing the new visitor center dispels any notion that progress has been lost at the Spearfish hatchery. Uniformed volunteers greet and invite visitors to learn the culture and history of this famous old hatchery of the West. "Where are you from," will most likely be their first friendly words.

It's no wonder the seasonal volunteers are so eager to inform and please. They spend summers in cozy, elaborate motor homes next the rushing creek, sharing campfires and camaraderie with others. In an almost ideal setting, these people are practicing what they love -- a close association with nature. And in doing so, they form the personality and heart of the hatchery.

Volunteers at the information center show trout "specialty" items and other fishy merchandise that would be unusual at most tourist gift shops, but makes perfect sense at the hatchery. By a short walk or elevator, visitors can descend to the new underwater fish viewing area, which gives spectators an unrivaled close-up view. The underwater entertainment really becomes charged when sightseers on the open deck above throw handfuls of fish food to the always-hungry school of fish. An occasional "lunker" often steals the show with rambunctious behavior, gulping down more than its share of fish food.

Wildlife encounters at the D.C. Booth Hatchery are likely to include greetings from marmots, who bask lazily in the sun near the salvaged turn-of-the-century railroad car on display. This "fish car" is scheduled to be transformed into an interpretive display to depict transportation of fish during the hatchery's "Fish Car Era." A newly built archives building is expected to attract researchers internationally who want to study artifacts and documents that tell the history of fisheries and aquaculture.

Also on the hatchery grounds is the Historic Booth House and Museum, structures listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The vintage buildings feature displays that transport visitors back to the hatchery's early days.

Touring the D.C. Booth Hatchery in Spearfish, S.D., provides an understanding and appreciation of the important role of fisheries management in the United States. The connection between fisheries, recreation, nutrition and the economy become apparent through the hatchery's displays.

That D.C. Booth and his crew would challenge spring snow storms to collect trout eggs in Yellowstone National Park, and transport their bounty by wagon and rail throughout the U.S. and foreign countries, is a remarkable feat. By visiting the hatchery that carries his name, visitors now and in the future will learn the important lessons about conservation and preservation of fishery resources.

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