With interactive learning displays, a replica of an old fish railcar to tour, natural trout stream and half-mile-long nature trail that leads to the Oden State Fish Hatchery, getting back to nature is fun and free. Daily tours at the modern facility, completed in June 2002, explain why hatcheries are necessary, how fish are raised and what happens to them as they mature.
We raise brown trout and rainbow trout here, says Maureen Jacobs, park interpreter with the Department of Natural Resources. We do about 250,000 rainbows every year and about 750,000 browns that we end up releasing into our lakes, rivers and streams.
The original Oden Hatchery was built in 1920 with fish ponds surrounding the building.
The railroad system ran right in front of the hatchery, explains Jacobs, so the men working in this building would load the fish from the pond onto the train.
Ten-gallon milk cans held the fish in specially modified railcars that traveled the state to distribute fish each year from the 1880s through 1931, before trucks replaced trains.
We got $3 million from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust for fisheries education and interpretation, so thats how we funded the train car, the interpretive signage and the stream viewing chamber (where visitors can see trout living in their natural habitat), says Jacobs.
In 1941, the fish hatchery moved further inland and the main building facing US-31 became the manager and familys residence. Currently, its used for office space, restrooms and a visitor center with interpretive displays, a video area and gift shop.
In 1999 we got $12 million from the state building authority to remove old tanks and raceways from down on this part of the property and relocate the hatchery, says Jacobs.
We used the money to take out all the tanks because they were dilapidated and crumbling and we removed the fish, put them up in the buildings that we built on South Ayr Road (in Alanson), and we restored the stream.
After checking out the displays and railcar located at the Visitor Center, taking a nature walk back to the Fish Hatchery before the tour is part of the fun.
We sit on 130 acres of property, so theres lots of wildlife viewing opportunities, says Jacobs. This is sort of a self-guided nature trail. Woodpeckers, beavers, eagles and bird-watching groups have been known to travel the trails.
Seeing the trouts natural habitat is easy with the centers covered outdoor viewing chamber that offers views into the side of the stream.
The four-inch thick glass wall, located a short walk inland, was built in 1999 and cost $1.2 million dollars. Funds for the project came from the Great Lakes Fishery Trust, with help from the Department of Natural Resources.
As far as I know, says Jacobs, there are only three freshwater stream viewing chambers in the nation, and we have one of them here in Northern Michigan.
Educating the public has become an important aspect of the hatcherys agenda, and each summer, tours attract close to 20,000 visitors.
We have these structured tours so that we can tell people a little bit more about what this place really signifies and how important it is to keep stocking fish, says Jacobs.
There are so many poachers, and besides the poachers, there are about 1.3 million people that legally fish and buy their license every year, but that, coupled with environmental degradation, means we need to keep stocking fish if we want to keep some of these species around.
The ecosystems stability as well as anglers fishing trips depend on it.
Tours take about 45 minutes, continues Jacobs. We walk people through three different buildings of the hatchery, interpreting the life cycle of a fish at our hatchery, where we end up stocking fish (northern half of Michigans lower peninsula and the entire upper peninsula), how we raise them, take care of them and the purpose.
No receptionist is on duty at the hatchery so visitors are encouraged to begin their experience at the Visitor Center.
Guests can be greeted by an interpretive staff member and told what the plans are for the day, and if there are any special programs, acclimate them to the site, says Jacobs.
I think people are blown away when they havent been here to see that theres all of this property back here; but with regard to the tour, I think the broodstock fish (mature fish kept separate for breeding) shock people the most. Theyre so big and theyre so close in the tank and visitors are really impressed with the operation of squeezing eggs (which occurs September-February) and that sort of thing.
Along the nature trail is the retirement pond for the broodstock. Visitors can feed the large eight-year-old brown and rainbow trout and children are invited for catch-and-release fishing days several times throughout the year.
We provide all the equipment, says Jacobs. Fishing days are always free.
Recruitment and retention is an important aspect of the centers youth education programs.
Were trying to get young anglers interested in the sport of fishing, so that we can keep them for their whole lives. Its a great way to get kids to enjoy the outdoors, explains Jacobs. Most kids really love it, and if theyre shown at an early age the proper way to handle a fish its a really interesting sport for them to get involved with.
Hundreds of school groups come out each year and summer programs are in place for youth visitors, as well. Brown trout Tuesdays will happen each Tuesday in July from 3-5 p.m. Call the Visitor Center for more information.
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Although the new hatchery has streamlined operations, improvements can always be made.
We have one forward-thinking employee at the hatchery, says Jacobs. His name is Dave Stine, and hes worked for the Oden Hatchery for 25 years. Dave is working to get solar panels to run the two pumps that keep water (in the stream) flowing and prevent the water from flowing up in the streams viewing chamber.
I think it costs the state about $500 a month to run those pumps, continues Jacobs, but if we got the solar panels, of course, that would be free energy.
One of seven employees who work at the hatchery, Stine is the maintenance supervisor and has been there the longest. Hes joined by the hatchery manager, biologist, fish technicians and assistants.
Dave is also trying to work to get the sludge from the hatchery made into dry bio-pellets, so hes chair of the energy committee with the fish division and hes trying to get things moving.
With the states economy uncertain, its fortunate that the hatchery is somewhat self-sustaining.
How were funded now how we pay for the electric bills and our salary and fish food for example, is the sale of our fishing licenses, admits Jacobs.
I wish we didnt have to have the hatcheries; it would be nice to have natural procreation out there in the wild and the fish taking care of their own numbers.
Id have to find a job somewhere else, of course, she says with a laugh, but were just not there as far as natural stability.
For now, Jacobs enthusiasm and love for the outdoors makes an educational visit to the hatchery and visitor center a treat.
This is sort of a kept secret, the Indian River resident and fishing fanatic admits. A lot of people have just not had the chance to stop and see what a fantastic place this is.
The Michigan Fisheries Visitor Center is open Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. with four tours daily at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. and Sundays from Noon-6 p.m. with tours at 1 p.m., 2 p.m., 3 p.m. There is no admission charge for any exhibits or tours. Park at the Visitor Center located at 3377 US-31 in Oden, six miles east of Petoskey. For more information call 231-348-0998.