Big Spring Hatchery - Waterline replacement underway

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The pipeline that brings spring water to the raceways at Big Spring Trout Hatchery is being replaced. The hatchery remains open though access is a bit trickier.

By Gary Siegwarth

A long awaited project to replace the pipeline, which delivers spring water from Iowa’s largest cold-water spring to the fish rearing raceways at Big Spring Trout Hatchery is finally underway.  The project is being carried out by Ray’s Excavating of Edgewood and will make normal access to the hatchery by visitors and anglers a little more difficult through the end of October. The project has been on the “wish list” for nearly 15 years due to numerous leaks and dozens of “shoe string” repairs that have been made over the years since the original pipe was installed in the early 1970’s.  That original pipeline was constructed of used culverts, which have survived long past their intended lifespan.  The project had such a long wait due to a lack of DNR Fish & Wildlife funds needed to keep up with these types of long overdue infrastructure repairs at facilities across the state.  

Funding for the trout hatchery comes exclusively from the sale of hunting and fishing licenses, which is part of the reason for the lack of funds to make such repairs.  Fishing and hunting license fees have not increased for 17 years.  Over that time, license revenues have not kept pace with rising costs and upkeep needs.  As part of cost saving measures, many fish & wildlife management positions and a number of important natural resource programs have been completely eliminated.  As an example, Big Spring used to be operated with four full time employees, but is now down to two.

Big Spring had its beginning as a private trout fishing club developed in the early 1930s, which was the vision of the original founders Otto and Mary Bankes.  Mary was an energetic presence.  She remained a resident of rural Clayton County before recently passing away at the age of 101.  A photo display from the early days of the hatchery can be viewed in the upstairs of the hatchery building.  The Iowa Conservation Commission purchased the hatchery in 1961 and the current layout of the fish rearing raceways was constructed in 1971.  In addition to growing rainbow and brook trout to catchable size, hatchery personnel are also responsible for weekly stockings of trout in sixteen streams throughout northeast Iowa from April 1 to the end of October, as well as hauling trout to six urban lakes throughout Iowa.  Trout from Big Spring get transported as far away as Council Bluffs.  Big Spring also supports the very popular kids trout fishing pond, which draws anglers from across the state and across the ocean.  This past summer, a family from London, England planned a stop at the kids fishing pond as part of their trip to the US. 

In addition to the trout rearing and stocking, employees at Big Spring maintain angler access trails on the streams and are involved in numerous aquatic education programs for local schools.  These programs have been very popular among local schools because they include time spent at the kids fishing pond, which include demonstrations on both how to clean and cook the trout.  Similar to Elkader, the hatchery was inundated with floodwaters from the Turkey River in 2008, which damaged the old hatchery building beyond repair.

The purpose of the catchable trout stocking program, which Big Spring is a vital part of, is to enhance recreational fishing opportunities on streams throughout northeast Iowa.  This not only benefits anglers fishing those streams, it also benefits local businesses.  Based on recent economic surveys, trout anglers annually spend more than $14 million on food, lodging, transportation, equipment, and other expenditures related to their trout fishing trips. With an investment in the new water supply line, Big Spring can remain an important part of this recreational economic pipeline in northeast Iowa for generations to come.

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