Fishing History | Local news

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SPEARFISH – The DC Booth Hatchery and National Historic Archives have been a part of Spearfish history for almost as long as the town has existed; 2021 marked its 125th anniversary, which is why the Pioneer looked at this unique and important part of hatchery history.

On June 11, 1896, Congress allocated $ 5,000 to establish a fish hatchery at Spearfish through the US Fish Commission. The DC Booth Fish Hatchery actually started out as the Spearfish National Fish Hatchery and was a substation of the Leadville National Fish Hatchery in Colorado.

“(The Fish Commission was) really a young agency trying to establish food sources for a growing population across the country and trout is what they knew they would do well in the Black Hills because of the weather. water, ”said Curator April Gregory. from the Fisheries and Aquatic Conservation Archives at the DC Booth Hatchery.

When the facility was completed in 1899, the first shipment of trout arrived at Spearfish, with the first hatchery superintendent, DeWitt Clinton (DC) Booth, who at 31 was the youngest superintendent working for the commission at the time. Booth was an employee at Leadville, but as was the practice, he was sent to where the agency felt he could be of most use.

“He received marching orders to transfer him here. … So he just came to work one day and we said, ‘OK, you pack your bags and go to Spearfish,’ ”Gregory said with a laugh.

Under Booth’s direction, the hatchery began stocking a variety of cold-water fish, and within a decade had stocked the Black Hills streams with around 20 million fish.

“It was rainbow trout, brown trout, brook trout, cutthroat trout, lake trout, as well as arctic grayling and Atlantic salmon,” said Gregory.

Cultivating and managing a thriving fish population, which would otherwise have had no natural means of reaching the Black Hills, has not only provided a vital food source for the growing population of miners and other commercial seekers, but has also added angling to recreational recreation. people could enjoy their stay in the hills.

During his tenure as superintendent, Booth managed the facility while working to expand the charge of the Fish Commission to supply landlocked water systems with thriving fish populations.

“For the first few years DC Booth was put in charge of starting a fishing program in Yellowstone National Park, so he did and worked there every summer for about 10 or 11 years,” Gregory explained.

DC and his wife Ruby Booth accomplished a lot during their time at Spearfish and have been very active in helping to shape the community. Today visitors can learn a lot about the influence of the Booths through museums and historical interpretations on the ground, but Gregory said that is the story of what happened after DC Booth, which set the hatchery apart from others across the country.

“It didn’t stop with DC Booth, there were a lot of other superintendents who worked here,” she said. “Sometimes it’s overlooked that this Spearfish station was a resort for a while, so in the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s and even the 1980s it was called the Spearfish Fisheries Complex.”

As a fishing complex, the hatchery has established several facilities throughout the region to assist in the breeding, study and conservation of fish in the Black Hills.

In 1937, due to inconsistencies in the water quality of the natural springs that feed the hatchery, the Works Progress Administration was commissioned to construct an auxiliary egg hatching station off the property. But even that turned out to be problematic, forcing the resort to expand even further.

“The auxiliary hatchery (which is now the Snappers Club), also had water quality issues with silt clogging the troughs,” said Gregory. “In 1949, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of South Dakota signed an agreement to use neighboring state land for a federal hatchery, McNenny National Fish Hatchery. Fish production shifted to the new McNenny Substation, with Spearfish used to raise larger fish. “

The McNenny Hatchery also housed a diet development and testing center.

In 1963, Gregory said the US Fish Commission had expanded its conservation efforts and had been designated as the US Fish and Wildlife Service. Separated from the hatchery, the Wildlife Department purchased the property at Ranch A in Wyoming to establish a fish genetics lab, which was added to the Spearfish Fisheries Complex in 1980.

In addition to all of the study and conservation facilities operating as part of the complex, Gregory said the Spearfish Coldwater Service Training School was established to allow all US Fish and Wildlife Service employees to come and study. .

“It was to train young biologists in the most advanced technology of the time,” she said.

New water level monitoring techniques, hybridization trials, population documentation were all on display at the Spearfish Hatchery. The Wildlife Service would send its newly hired biologists to train at Spearfish before being transferred to the station where they would work.

“They were transferring people every few years to be a full fishery biologist, and you didn’t have a say,” Gregory said. “I guess it would be similar to some of the military families who travel a lot.”

All of these new ideas entering and exiting the hatchery have also contributed to the growing collective knowledge of the location of Spearfish. In the 1970s, Gregory said hatchery staff began collecting and storing items such as nets, egg jars, fish tags, and pulse oximeters, to measure the amount of oxygen in water shipping containers, as well as archival documents such as the student thesis. and research articles.

“Part of the graduation requirement was that they had to do a thesis type work,” Gregory said. “I guess part of the inspiration maybe was the continuing education school with people coming from all over the country here, and then they would probably talk about the way they did things from where they were. come, because every fish hatchery that you go to, they do a little different things.

In the late 1970s, another major player in hatchery history, Arden Trandahl, used his post as superintendent to establish these collections in an official national archives, but it was not the only fight Trandahl was waging.

“He presented it to Congress and he spent a lot of time advocating both for the archives to be officially recognized and for the hatchery to remain open,” Gregory said. “The collection is national in scope and its primary purpose is to collect fishing tackle from the history of the US Fish and Wildlife Service, which dates back 150 years (to the US Fish Commission).”

Gregory said the collection currently contains over 14,000 objects and 1.8 million fishery records from all 50 states and continues to grow.

“We have a lot of pretty creative things that they’ve built in-house, whether it’s feeding the fish or cleaning the grates or a number of things that have been built in place to meet a need,” he said. she declared.

In the 1980s, due to budget cuts, the hatchery was threatened with closure and operations were in fact shut down for a while. The Wildlife Service moved the McNenny Hatchery to South Dakota, so the fish were still stored in the Black Hills, but not from the Spearfish Hatchery. Instead, the grounds were allowed to remain open as a public space allowing the city to attract tourists; that’s where the Booth Society came in to breathe new life into the old fishery.

The Booth Society emerged as some sort of proof of the Town of Spearfish’s investment in the hatchery, which had always viewed the land as a public attraction for visitors.

“We have 1920s photos of Isabelle High School on a field trip,” said Karen Holzer, executive director of The Booth Society.

Through fundraising, donations and public awareness, the Booth Society has shown that the fishing station could be much more culturally and historically significant.

Because the Spearfish Hatchery had become such a lightning rod for the conservation and cultivation of fish at the federal level, and because of its obvious appeal to the general public, Trandahl worked with the Booth Society and together asked the federal government to resume funding for fisheries. .

“They were convinced: ‘we will come back, resume operations, but with a different twist with more emphasis on cultural resources; that being the archives, and a greater emphasis on visitor service, ”said Gregory.

The hatchery reopened in 1989 with the formal establishment of the Booth Society and new light on historical interpretation, as well as a new name, DC Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery and Archives.

“They Booth Society was organized in 1989, so they played an important role in the growth of the fish hatchery or in the changes that were taking place,” said Holzer.

Contrary to its name, the hatchery no longer hatches trout in the facility, but rears fish to nursery size from fry shipped from other hatching centers.

“We don’t hatch them because our hatchery building is a museum,” Gregory laughed. “But we breed them in our raceways and ponds and store them.”

In addition to the museum and historical archive, the Booth House, the original Neoclassical home, which DC and Ruby Booth first moved into in 1905, still testifies to the perseverance and importance of the hatchery, as well as its link. to the community.

“A lot of the items on display (in the house) were donated by the Spearfish families, so there are a lot of heirlooms on display at the Booth House,” said Gregory. “I think it’s something really special that it doesn’t just tell the story of the hatchery families who lived there, it also tells how much Spearfish has really embraced and loved this place since its inception.”

To celebrate its 125th anniversary, The Booth Society hosted a series of special events throughout the summer, including local actors representing DC and Ruby Booth, outdoor field painting exhibits, cooking demonstrations trout from the experts at Nonna’s Kitchen, Native American dances and stories. say, and more.


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