D. C. Booth Fish Hatchery
The D. C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery (423 Hatchery Circle, 605/642-7730, www.fws.gov/dcbooth, grounds open year-round daily dawn–dusk; museum, visitors center, and gift shop May 15–Oct. 1 daily 10 a.m.–4 p.m., free) is a surprisingly delightful experience. Opened in 1899, and functioning as a hatchery until 1989, the hatchery was originally called the Spearfish National Fish Hatchery.
Its mission was to propagate, stock, and establish trout populations in the Black Hills of South Dakota and Wyoming. While trout are not native to the region, the fast-flowing, cold spring water of the region is a perfect environment for them.
The hatchery is situated on 10 acres of land a few blocks from downtown Spearfish and adjacent to Spearfish City Park. Beautiful landscaping-including ponds, wooden bridges, rock walls, and flower gardens—complement the attractive Von Bayer Museum of Fish Culture and the 1905 Historic Superintendent’s Residence.
All of the ponds are stocked with trout; food is available from dispensers located near the ponds for $0.25 and small bags of food can be purchased from the small gift shop for $1–3. Near the entryway to the park, a below-surface walkway allows visitors to watch some very large trout swimming about in the stock pond. Feeding the trout is a fun and inexpensive source of entertainment for kids and adults both.
Thoughtfully designed displays and interpretive signs are scattered throughout the grounds including a Yellowstone Boat and a replica of a Fish Car. The Yellowstone Boat on display is a Great Lakes–style cabin cruiser. It was used at Yellowstone Lake to collect fish eggs. The boat was originally designed to rescue fish stranded by receding floodwaters when the Mississippi River flooded. These boats were selected for the Yellowstone project because they were sturdy enough to withstand the heavy waves on Lake Yellowstone.
The Fish Car is a replica of the rail cars that were used to transport fish ready for stocking in the days before refrigeration. Volunteers walk visitors through the replica, explaining how fish were kept alive and how the cars evolved at a time when the only way to keep the fish cool was ice and the only way to keep the water aerated was with hand pumps.
Today, fish are transported from hatcheries in specially designed tanker trucks that are filled with refrigerated, aerated, and constantly circulated water. In the 1880s, that was not yet an option. Between 1873 and 1947, over 72 billion fish were transported from the fisheries to destination streams by fish rail cars.
The Von Bayer Museum of Fish Culture houses a collection of more than 175,000 artifacts related to the fisheries industry. Guided tours of the museum and the 1905 Booth House, which served as the superintendent’s residence, are available daily. The tours are not scheduled and the guides are volunteers. The tour starts whenever visitors are interested in taking one and last as long as the visitors like. And even after the tour begins, anyone can tag along. Guides provide information about the history of fisheries in the United States as well as the D.C. Booth Historic Site, and explain what many of the artifacts in the museum were used for.
© Laural A. Bidwell from Moon Mount Rushmore & the Black Hills, 1st Edition