Monday, May 23, 2011

Another Volunteer Adventure Begins

We’re at our summer home in Spearfish, South Dakota, where we’ll be volunteering as interpretive hosts for the D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery.  This is our first time in the area, and we’ve been impressed with the beauty and history of the hatchery and the surrounding area.  We’re parked in the “Volunteer Village” section of the city park across from the hatchery.  Each spacious site is paved, with full hookups, large oak and elm trees, grass, and as a bonus, Spearfish Creek (which is stocked with trout), runs right behind the site.  Spearfish is a great little town, with friendly people, a great library, shopping, and lots of non-chain restaurants.  We’ve been welcomed by everyone we’ve met, and are looking forward to the summer here.
Hatchery EntranceThe D.C. Booth Historic Fish Hatchery is no longer a functioning hatchery, but serves as a living fishery museum to educate the public and to preserve fishery archives.  It was a surprise to us that the hatchery, which began operations in 1899, was primary established because the Black Hills had no trout.  It’s hard to believe, driving through the beautiful mountains with all of it’s streams, that no trout were native here.  Today, a walk through the grounds is a history lesson in how fish were raised and distributed throughout the United States.  It’s interesting to realize that without these programs, there would be no trout in the Black Hills, no shad or striped bass in California, and few bass, crappie, or even carp anywhere in the West.   While here, we’ll be telling people about the history of fisheries as we host at the different buildings and exhibits. 
Gift Shop & Viewing PondThe Visitor Center/Gift Shop is where most of the activity takes place – you can purchase fish food (and corn for the ducks), and feed the huge rainbow and brown trout in the adjacent pond.  An underwater viewing area gives visitors a close up of the fish, Trout Viewing Areaand a continuous video explains how the trout were raised in the early 1900s.  Throwing a handful of fish food into the water results in a spectacular feeding frenzy as the trout rise to the surface; they look more like hungry piranha then trout.  There are also three other ponds with trout to feed, along with raceways filled with smaller fish being raised in cooperation with the state hatchery.  And of course, the ducks.  A resident population of Mallards and a few Wood ducksBrown Trout Transfer have figured out that this is a good place to get a free meal, and they’ll follow you around hoping for a handful of corn.  We watched as they transferred trout from the smaller ponds to the main pond in front of the visitor center – some were so large that they had to be netted and moved one at a time!
MuseumA museum is housed in what was the original hatchery building.  Built in 1899, it also served as the home of D.C. Booth, the first manager, his wife and two children.  The museum holds numerous artifacts from the early days of fishery management to the present.
RailcarOne of the most impressive exhibits is the “Fishcar”, a replica of a railcar used to transport fish across the country from the 1880s to the 1930s.  Originally an 1880s Pullman car, it was rebuilt using a model and photographs to accurately depict Fishcar #3. Railcar Interior It took over 2000 hours of work by a retired cabinet maker to complete the interior, and the result is an  accurate and beautiful exhibit.  The history of the eleven fishcars is not well known but is interesting – we learned that the first shipment of striped bass from New Jersey to California took place in 1879.  To put that date in perspective, it was only three years after the Battle of the Little Big Horn!
Booth HouseAnother place to visit is the Booth House, the original home built for the Booth family by the U.S. Fish Commission in 1905.  The home is beautifully restored and furnished in period furniture.  In back, a flower garden provides a location for weddings and events. 
The grounds also have one of the boats used to gather trout eggs from Lake Yellowstone, a “Fisheries Hall of Fame” building, ponds, sculptures, and nature trails.  It’s a popular place for locals and tourists….and it’s free!  We’ll be here, providing tours of the facilities until the end of August, so if you’re in the area, stop in and say hello!


  1. Great blog and a great couple!

  2. Enjoy your time! We stopped by the hatchery last summer and thoroughly enjoyed it! Unfortunately the beautiful campground was full when we came through...maybe next time.

  3. What a neat place to volunteer!! Look forward to hearing about your time there. :-)

  4. Anonymous11:14 AM

    Enjoyed reading about your travels. Great blog. Margie