Updated: Jun 6, 2019
The D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery is a quirky and interesting attraction in Spearfish, South Dakota. It's a beautiful park as well as a fascinating historic and cultural center. The expansive grounds provide plenty of room to sniff and explore, and lots of things to see.
Right away the dogs noticed all the ponds -and that they're all visibly filled with fish. The girls found this abundance to be very interesting and stopped many times throughout our visit to watch them swim. The fish in the main pond were quite large.
You can feed the fish (designated fish food only, which the hatchery provides for a small fee). In doing so it creates a feeding frenzy, much to the dogs' fascination. They were quite interested in watching this phenomenon unfold until we were all out of fish food.
There were walkways and paths leading all over the grounds. As we explored, the intriguing history of the fish hatchery began to unfold. It has been in operation since 1896. Historic buildings are spread throughout the property along with informational signs explaining their significance. The dogs weren't allowed inside any of the buildings but we were happy exploring everything from outside.
The park is flanked by nature trails on both sides. We first tried the path to the left of the main entrance and fish pond. It led up to a platform overlooking the grounds. After taking in the view we followed the path back down to the pond, then continued on exploring the park.
Statues popped up here and there as we wondered around. After seeing some of the sights we made our way over to the other side of the park where another trail was waiting.
This path began with a climb up a large wooden staircase. At the top the trail splits and we took a left. It led to old water reservoirs from the early 1900s. We then went back in the other direction which led to a fantastic place to view the hatchery from above.
Known as the Jim Kelly Overlook, this beautiful spot had benches to rest on while enjoying views of the park. This was a great place for a water and treat break while looking out over the scenery. The girls had fun watching other dogs and their people walking around below.
There were squirrels to bark at, but that had to be kept to a minimum. Dogs are allowed in this special place but they must be on their best behavior. Harassing the wildlife within the fish hatchery is a big no-no. Excessive barking is also not allowed. When Ursa decided to have words with a squirrel, it was time to keep moving along the trail.
The path progressed past the old "mort pit" (or fish cemetery) and continued down the hill. At one point a small seasonal spring flowed over the steps and it was like walking down a tiny waterfall.
The girls enjoyed following all the different paths, including the paved ones that led to various exhibits. They didn't care about the history but still seemed to find the whole place interesting. The grounds were fairly extensive, but there were plenty of benches to stop and take a break (or just take everything in).
Not only was this an important fish hatchery during the early 1900s but it also pioneered ways of transporting and preserving fish. The various exhibits explain that workers would cut giant blocks of ice from the nearby ponds, store them in an onsite ice house until summer, and then use rail cars packed with the ice to transport fish and eggs across the country.
When we reached the troughs full of fish (called "raceways") the girls were fascinated. They spent some time watching the multitudes of trout swimming around. They liked walking to all the different waterways and investigating the fish. They took notice of the fish in all the ponds, especially the exceptionally large trout (there were quite a few).
Oddly enough, the dogs weren't the least bit interested when we went down to the underwater viewing area. Giant fish swam right up against the glass but the girls didn't give it a second thought. They were more interested in watching the fish from the surface of the water.
This is a popular place and can be crowded during the warmer months. It's open from dawn to dusk year-round and is free to enjoy (although donations are encouraged). It's one of the nation's oldest fish hatcheries, but is also an outdoor museum dedicated to fish culture and history.
We spent quite a bit of time here exploring the grounds and watching the fish. We all had a nice time enjoying the sights. Dogs of all ages and abilities could appreciate this activity -it isn't necessary to trudge up the steps to the lookout spots in order to have a great time here. Lovely Spearfish City Park shares the northern border with the hatchery, providing even more space to explore. The grounds are beautiful and well cared for. This place is a fixture of Spearfish, and one everyone is invited to enjoy.