The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Best of Branson

August 16, 2013

Hatchery an indoor, outdoor experience

BRANSON, Mo. — Leah Eden gets excited when she talks about the way children react to Shepherd of the Hills trout hatchery.

"Kids will come in the front door and stop in their tracks," said Eden, public information officer for the 211-acre Department of Conservation hatchery. "Their jaws drop, and you will hear them scream. We have snakes and turtles and frogs and spiders. There are native fish like bass and sunfish to look at, and we have our 3,500-gallon aquarium where you can get eyeball to eyeball with large trout."

While visitors to the education center get a through-the-glass peek at many of Missouri's native fish, reptiles and other animals inside, outside visitors get a hands-on experience feeding the hatchery's main attraction, the trout.

"The No. 1 thing that kids like to do when they are here is feed the fish," she said. "They love something that's hands on, and they get a lot of enjoyment from watching the fish eat."

The hatchery's open-air, outdoor concrete pools, called raceways, contain more than 700,000 rainbow and brown trout of varying sizes and maturity at any given time. Visitors are encouraged to walk around the complex and feed handfuls of special trout feed to the hatchery's growing inhabitants.

More than 250,000 visitors make the trek to the 55-year-old hatchery -- the state's largest -- every year. The Shepherd facility is the centerpiece of Missouri's trout production program. The complex also offers a view of Table Rock Dam and has fishing and boating access to Lake Taneycomo.

Eden said that one of the hatchery staff's missions is to educate adults and children alike.

"One of the main messages we want to get across is that kids are our future conservationists," she said. "We want to get them connected with nature. So many people live in town now. We want to make sure that they realize where their food comes from."

The key to understanding the food chain and its importance is education, Eden said. The programs at the hatchery are geared toward helping visitors reconnect with nature and understanding the importance of protecting natural resources.

Eden said that understanding the life cycle of trout and their importance to Missouri's food chain and economy is important, and at the end of the day, fishing is just fun, too.

"We stock a lot of fish into Taneycomo," she said. "When we have people say that they are not catching any fish, I ask them, ÔWhat are you using?' Sometimes if the generators are running, that can make the fishing a little tougher. But we stock a lot of fish. They are out there."

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