Thursday, August 29, 2013

D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery and The Fish Culture of Spearfish

The D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery has played a large role in Spearfish for 117 years. Established in 1896, it is one of the oldest operating hatcheries in the United States dedicated to fish culture and resource management. To say the hatchery is an important part of Spearfish and the Black Hills is an understatement. Between 20,000 and 30,000 rainbow trout are stocked out of D.C. Booth each year by the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish, and Parks into nearby lakes and streams. More than 150,000 people visit the hatchery each year. An estimated $1 million is spent by nonresident visitors in Spearfish each year who attributed their visit ONLY to the existence of the hatchery. While these are some solid facts, there is much more to the fish hatchery than any numbers can ever tell.

When visiting the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery for the first time, there's a lot to see and do. Located just past the Spearfish City Park, you can enter through the gazebo on the south side of the park. The bridge will take you right over Spearfish Creek. As you enter the hatchery, you can't help but notice the beauty and upkeep of the grounds. It's easy to see why Spearfish takes such pride in this historical attraction.

Upon entering D.C. Booth,  many people are anxious to see the fish. You can't miss them. You literally walk over the top of a pond on your way into the hatchery. You'll notice that the fish tend to be separated according to size into different ponds. The largest pond features an underwater observation area. Youngsters tend to flock to the pond with the tiny trout and to the underwater observation area which offers great views of the biggest trout. Veteran fishermen like to spend time here too. You'll hear plenty of jokes about, "how'd you like to catch one of those?" or "I bet he'd put up quite a fight". Visitors of all ages enjoy feeding the fish...and the ducks. There are a couple coin-operated fish food dispensers located on the hatchery grounds. You can also purchase bags of fish food at the gift shop. Feeding the fish is always entertaining as you can't help but laugh while watching the ducks and fish race after the food pellets. You would think they would learn that with so many visitors, there is no shortage of food.

As you continue walking through the hatchery, you'll find much more than just fish. Perhaps one of the most iconic features of the fish hatchery is the Von Bayer Museum of Fish Culture. Housed in the historic 1899 Hatchery Building, the Museum was created to preserve the vibrant history and rich heritage of American fisheries workers. The collection contains over 175,000 items and is the largest collection of fisheries artifacts in the country. Whether you are interested in the history or not, you are sure to be amazed by this gorgeous historic building and its contents.

The railcar is a favorite for little ones. D.C. Booth displays the only fisheries railcar exhibit in the country, showcasing a replica of Fish Car No. 3. Walk on in, and a volunteer will guide you through the railcar and its history.

Located right next to the railcar is the Ice House. This is a replica of the 1899 original. Today, it is home to the Fish Culture Hall of Fame.

History buffs love touring the Booth House. Built for the first superintendent in 1905, this Neo-Colonial Revival home is open for tours to visitors who would like to learn about the history of the house and the families who lived and worked in hatcheries. Don't forget to peek in the backyard at Ruby's Garden. This is a favorite venue for weddings throughout the summer months.

During your visit, you can't miss the Yellowstone Boat. U.S. Fisheries Boat #39 tells the story of early hatchery workers who went on expeditions to Yellowstone National Park to collect trout eggs to be returned to the hatchery and stocked in the Black Hills.

To get the full D.C. Booth experience, be sure to hike to both lookout points. There are two trails located on the grounds. The trail on the west side offers a beautiful overlook of the raceways and ponds. The trail on the south side features views of the Booth House at one point and great views of Lookout Mountain in the distance.

With so many things to see and do at D.C. Booth, I decided to ask a few visitors and locals what their favorite part was. Here are their responses:

"We're usually here twice a week. The lookouts are probably our favorites." says Michelle of Spearfish. "I like that hike," chimes in her daughter, pointing to the trail on the west side.

"Feeding the fish, walking around. Everything here is beautiful."
- Cindy, Utah

"All of it. I enjoy walking through the hatchery. It's peaceful. I just bought a birding book at the gift shop. It's a great place to birdwatch."
- Sherie, Spearfish

"Watching the fish eat. It's beautiful here."
- Nancy, Wisconsin

"We usually come once a week or every two weeks. It's all my favorite part. I used to really like the two little hikes. Now with my daughter, it's fun to come look at the fish." 
- Jessie, Spearfish

"It's so clean! And the fish are so healthy!"
- Verna, Wisconsin

"We come whenever we're in Spearfish. It's a great place to let the kids run around," says Nicole of Belle Fourche. "I like feeding the fish," adds her daughter.

Whether  you come for the peaceful setting, the history, or just to feed the fish, people of all ages enjoy the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery. So while this historic attraction plays a large role in the economy, it is also an important part of Spearfish culture.

Recently, the Booth Society, a non-profit group that supports the fish hatchery, announced that the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery is to close October 1st due to federal budget cuts. Learn how you can help save the D.C. Booth Fish Hatchery.  You can also show your support for the cause by signing this petition.

- Cortney Slaight of Visit Spearfish, Inc.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Downtown Friday Nights in Spearfish

Live music, great shopping, delicious food, fun activities for kids, ice cold beverages, and a few thousand people. These are just some of the things you will find at Downtown Friday Nights. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you've been missing out. Downtown Friday Nights is a series of events hosted by the Spearfish Downtown Business Association. Every Friday night from June through August, downtown Spearfish is filled with shopping, music, food, and more!

Downtown Friday Nights has not always been this big. The Spearfish DBA initially started off with "First Fridays" as a way to get people to enjoy the downtown atmosphere and maybe do some shopping. That is, the first Friday of each summer month, the community was invited downtown for music, maybe a few vendors, and some extended shopping hours at downtown businesses. Mark Kazmer, owner of RadioShack and active member of the Spearfish Downtown Business Association remembers, "We were lucky to have 100-150 people coming out, and vendors were hit and miss. Bands played for tips, and our stage was a converted trailer house that was loaned to us."

First Fridays crowd - Photos Courtesy Spearfish Downtown Business Association

First Fridays stage
This small town, community event has come a long way. Now in its third season, "Downtown Friday Nights" are every Friday in the summer months and consist of much more than a few local bands and hit and miss vendors. With a budget that approaches 30k, paid  by sponsors and vendor fees, the event has been able to expand. The DBA was able to purchase their own stage, which allows them to host bands from around the nation. Acts come from as far as Michigan and Texas! They haven't forgotten the locals though. A number of local talents are also featured throughout the summer. "Renting that stage to Rapid City Summer Nights and various events throughout the years have allowed us to pay for the stage without a single penny burden on the taxpayer or business owner" Kazmer explains. Along with some new musical talents, more and more vendors have become part of the event. There are different activities for kids every week. Oh, and that 100-150 people, is now more like a couple thousand. "We have had crowds up to 4,000 people this year!" says Kazmer.

Events of this caliber take a lot of work and surely a lot of people. However, Downtown Friday Nights is still completely done by volunteers. Kazmer is thrilled with the support they have received, "Thankfully more and more groups are getting involved." He also commends the City of Spearfish for their cooperation. "We cannot imagine any municipality being easier to work with than the City of Spearfish and their employees."

Downtown Friday Nights has blossomed into a great family and community event. There is something for everyone. "We have so many families that are coming down and having a fun night, and that was our biggest hope - that we are showing the next generation(s) the beauty of downtown, what we have to offer as far as goods and services, and how important community is to all of us. The organizers are so pleased to see everyone out socializing, having a bite to eat, and enjoying the night. It truly has evolved into a community event, and we are proud to be a part of that."

So if you haven't make it to Downtown Friday Nights yet, I strongly encourage you to do so. Bring your friends and family, the kids and the strollers, just leave the dogs at home. All Downtown Friday Nights events are listed on the Visit Spearfish Calendar of Events and the Spearfish DBA website. You can also like Downtown Friday Nights and the Spearfish Downtown Business Association on Facebook for the latest updates. Come see why Downtown Spearfish is the place to be on Friday Nights!

Downtown Friday Nights - Photos Courtesy Spearfish Downtown Business Association

- Cortney Slaight of Visit Spearfish, Inc.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Treasure Hunting in The "Big Fish"

Are you looking for something new to try? Maybe something that brings out the inner child in you? Perfect – sounds like geocaching might be what you’re looking for.

Geocaching is a fun-filled activity for the whole family that is much like a treasure hunt, with modern day technologies of course. I had heard about geocaching previously but had never known what it was all about. When some friends came to visit they wanted to try something new and we decided to check out geocaching and see what this trending craze was all about.

We decided to start small as we didn’t really know what we were getting into and started searching for caches, small hidden boxes or capsules that hold a log book for those who find the cache to record their find. Some of the larger caches are big enough for trinkets to be left behind.

I know, at first it seems a little quirky, but honestly it’s a great activity to do especially with a group of friends or family members. From the easy-to-find caches right in and around Spearfish, to more difficult finds scattered throughout Spearfish Canyon or on Lookout Mountain, each cache is hidden with coordinates as the only clue to find the hidden treasure.

All you need to find the caches is a Global Positioning System (GPS) enabled device, such as a smartphone, to help locate the hidden treasures. To receive the coordinates of these hidden treasures, visit and enter in the Spearfish zip code – 57783 – to bring up a list of caches hidden in the area.

Now, I don’t want to give too much away about where the hidden caches are but perhaps this picture will give a clue to a nearby cache.

Happy hunting!

- Brian Gebhart of Visit Spearfish, Inc.