Office of External Affairs
Mountain-Prairie Region

Mountain-Prairie Region
134 Union Boulevard
Lakewood, Colorado 80228

For Immediate Release 
October 16, 2009

Historic Leadville NFH offers more than fish 

Contact: Leith Edgar: 303.236.4588;

From boom to bust is an accurate description of Colorado’s “Silver City” – Leadville.  Looking at the town today it’s hard to imagine that it was once a bustling city of more than 40,000 people. Now less than 4,000 residents call it home.

Leadville hatchery building, constructed 1890The majestic upper Arkansas Valley in which Leadville sits was damaged years ago when settlers, miners and prospectors overused its natural resources leaving scorched earth in their wake. The town’s history of plundering the environment is not universal though.  Since 1889 the Leadville National Fish Hatchery has been a counterweight to the treatment by the early residents and transients who sought their fortunes from the area’s rich mountains. However, raising fish from fertilized eggs is just a part of what the hatchery does.

“Our whole mission here is a little different than the normal fish hatchery,” explains Ed Stege, Hatchery Manager. “We’re not just raising fish.  With our large land base and trail system many visitors come just to enjoy nature.”

Part of the hatchery’s mission is connecting the public with the natural beauty of Leadville’s scenic landscape. A one-mile nature trail loop provides visitors a tour of the premises replete with posted interpretive signs and plant species identification markers. At the top of the trail there is a wooded picnic area and playground with bathrooms, a shelter, a basketball court, horseshoe pits, sandbox and swings.  Other trails on the hatchery enable hikers, bikers, cross country skiers and snowshoers access to the back country.Leadville NFH nature trail

In addition, for the past 20 years the hatchery has served as an aid station during the Leadville Trail 100 (mile) “Race Across the Sky” where more than 500 runners stop at mile 24 and again at mile 76 for fluids, food, medical attention and rest.

Aside from offering the public these outdoor opportunities, a visit to the Leadville hatchery is also a history lesson. The 3,000-acre site is the second oldest hatchery operated by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. With its headquarters at 9,650 feet elevation and sections above 13,000 feet, it’s the highest of all hatcheries in the National Fish Hatchery System.  Close to three-quarters of the property is within the Mt. Massive Wilderness Area.  It is also home to the memory of the historic Evergreen Lakes Hotel which burned down in 1894.  Today, the hatchery is preparing for its 125th anniversary in 2014.

It’s evident the hatchery is undergoing an ongoing restoration.  The hatchery building, constructed in 1890, was once touted as “the most picturesque building in the Colorado.” The original hatchery building is listed on the National Historic Register. All renovation decisions are made toward emulating the structure’s original design. The once full-production hatchery building is now multi-purpose. Within its native red sandstone exterior and carved wood supports, visitors can view historic photos, artifacts, fish production information and, most importantly, fish. Similar to 100 years ago, the hatchery staff still raises fish from eggs to juveniles.

FWS employees transfer fish from the racewaysThe most critical aspect of this, and any hatchery, is a clean and constant water source. Originally, the Leadville hatchery was supplied by Rock Creek and the relatively large areal expanse of the grounds was intended to protect the Rock Creek Watershed.  Beginning in the 1970’s, the Bureau of Reclamation began providing the hatchery water from Turquoise Reservoir. Today Rock Creek is still a secondary source of water and provides insurance in the event water from the reservoir is unavailable.

Over the last century most of the hatchery’s fish production took place in the Evergreen Lakes - natural kettle depressions from the last glacial period - and earthen bottom man-made ponds.  A whirling disease outbreak in 1995 forced a change.  The hatchery built a water treatment plant in 2003 to assist in producing whirling disease free fish.  A complex filtration and ultraviolet light exposure system prevents disease outbreaks in the raceways by filtering and treating all incoming water. Additionally, the hatchery discontinued the use of ponds and lakes and constructed more concrete raceways.

Leadville NFH nature trailThe primary production fish is the Snake River cutthroat trout.  Once the fish reach the proper size they are used to stock federal water projects and military installations, and to compensate the State of Colorado for endangered species work.  Additionally, the hatchery is working on culture techniques for the threatened greenback cutthroat trout.  The long term objective is to establish a broodstock for the yearly production of 250,000 fish eggs to be used in the greenback cutthroat recovery program.

One of the challenges facing the hatchery is the imminent arrival of the mountain pine beetle. To date the beetle has ravaged thousands of acres of the Rocky Mountains’ coniferous hillsides. By thinning the trees, the hatchery staff hopes to preserve some of the area’s aesthetics while minimizing the risk of wildfires. The staff also plants trees other than the lodgepole pine, which dominates the terrain and is most susceptible to infestation.

The staff is assisted by nature enthusiasts from across the country, including the recently-established group, Friends of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery. They contribute to the continued improvement of the program while enjoying the outdoors.  These volunteers work to beautify the grounds, maintain the historic site and assist in fish culture.  They come to generously give to the hatchery. They’re a far cry from Leadville’s earliest visitors - the settlers, miners and prospectors - who arrived with dollar signs in their eyes.  Now, thanks to the hatchery staff and its volunteers, visitors flock to the historic site hoping to learn about fish production and experience the great outdoors. They all leave with a greater appreciation for one of the area’s environmental stalwarts and enduring treasures – the Leadville National Fish Hatchery.

The Leadville National Fish Hatchery is located at 2846 Highway 300, Leadville, CO 80461. For more information visit its Web page:

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. We are both a leader and trusted partner in fish and wildlife conservation, known for our scientific excellence, stewardship of lands and natural resources, dedicated professionals and commitment to public service. For more information on our work and the people who make it happen, visit

 - FWS -

Photos of the Leadville NFH are available upon request. Please direct requests to the person listed as the contact.


Last updated: October 16, 2009