Whether patrons are seeking out a piece of American history, or they’re interested in getting up close and personal with Rainbow Trout, the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery & Archives in Spearfish has a wide variety of attractions for all.
Located between Spearfish City Park and the Spearfish Campground, the grounds are open year-round and are free to the public.
The hatchery was established in 1896, making it one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the country. “It is a fun, family-friendly learning environment that is free, which is always nice when you’re traveling as a family,” said April Gregory, curator of collections and exhibits.
Gregory is going on her 11th year with the hatchery. Not being a South Dakota native, she says she moved to Spearfish from Minnesota sight unseen to work as an archives intern. She then went on to become the executive director of the Booth Society, the nonprofit support group of the hatchery, for five years before being hired into her current role with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service.
There are a multitude of things to explore on the 10-acre historic site. Visitors have the opportunity to interact with the fish by feeding the Rainbow and Brown Trout, or watching them through the underwater viewing windows.
“We’re an active fish hatchery, even though we have the title ‘historic’ in our name,” said Gregory. “We’re still actively raising fish and restocking them.”
“Visitors can expect to be surprised and find more than they might have imagined a hatchery to be like.”
The hatchery no longer hatches eggs. However, it’s still a part of the National Fish Hatchery System. The fish raised at the hatchery are distributed to regional tribal waters.
“You can tour the Hector Von Bayer Museum, housed in the historic hatchery building, and it’s all about fish culture or the historic superintendent’s home, The Booth House,” said Gregory. “We also have a full-scale replica of a fish railcar. There were only 10 railcars used over 70 years to transport live fish from coast to coast.”
Gregory says there are both traditional and newer available educational opportunities. The museum offers self-guided tours, and a smartphone app is available to give guests access to additional information.
“Another fun thing that kids especially enjoy is the scavenger hunts we have available, which really engage them,” said Gregory. “If they turn in a completed scavenger hunt they get a free cup of fish food.”
Three breweries in Spearfish—Spearfish Brewing Company, Crow Peak Brewing Company, and Sawyer Brewing Co.—got together and brewed a special beer for the hatchery. The proceeds from the beer sales go directly to the educational attraction.
The design on the can is the Booth Society’s logo, which is the generational statue of a grandpa taking his granddaughter fishing.
The museum and Booth House are typically open daily during the summer season, but due to COVID-19, they will remain closed.
“Hopefully this month the railcar will be open, but we don’t foresee the Booth House to open since social distancing would not be possible,” said Gregory. “We’re not sure if the museum will open.”
The hatchery is one of the few on the National Historic Registry.
“Visitors can experience the outdoors while learning about fisheries and a very unique piece of American history that not many people know about,” said Gregory
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service is the oldest federal conservation agency, and was the first established by congress for the protection of national resources. The archives are host to 148 years of fishery conservation work.
There are 1.8 million archival records and 14,000 items spanning from 1871 to the present.
“We are, if not the largest, one of the largest collections related to fishery conservation work in the nation,” said Gregory.
The archival records contain anything from fishery reports and studies to an assortment of photos. The objects in the collection are pieces of scientific equipment related to fishery work, including fish shipment containers and tags used to track fish.
The Yellowstone Boat
U.S. Fisheries Boat #39 was used by hatchery workers on expeditions to Yellowstone National Park to collect trout eggs. The historic boat is now on display at the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery.
“There’s something magical about visiting the hatchery,” said Gregory. “You don’t have to be interested in fisheries or fish and people still find something that they enjoy about visiting, and that’s why they keep coming back.”