CASSVILLE, Mo. --Watching small rainbow trout swim in the raceways of the Missouri Department of Conservation's Roaring River Hatchery gives Paul Spurgeon as much joy these days as watching anglers catch lunkers at Roaring River State Park.
Spurgeon, the manager of the newly remodeled hatchery, has seen concrete raceways dry and devoid of fish for more than two years during a $1.9 million renovation of the hatchery. The completion of what essentially was a modernization will mean increased trout production and healthier fish. It also means all the families who like to stroll along the raceways and see waters teeming with fish now have something to look at again.
"We appreciate the patience of the hatchery visitors who were frustrated at the longer-than-anticipated length of the project," Spurgeon said. "It very much drove home to us how important the spring and the hatchery are to so many people. We received inquiries and messages from all over the United States from people who just wanted us to know how much they loved the hatchery, wished us well and were longing to see the hatchery back in operation."
The hatchery was built in 1910 and is one of the oldest in Missouri. When the renovation project began in September 2018, it was estimated to be finished by either spring or early summer of 2019. However, several periods of high rainfall caused a number of delays before the project was finally finished in December.
Coupled with the weather challenges was the sheer magnitude of what the renovation entailed.
"There are many pipes, gate valves and supply lines that regulate and supply water to the hatchery," Spurgeon said. "Because the spring flow is constantly going up and down, these are essential and these were all failing due to age and corrosion."
A traveling screen was added to clean the incoming water. A flow meter was added to measure the water used by the hatchery. Other updates included replacing old floodgates with new stainless steel gates that operate with electric motors, which make it safer for staff. A concrete emergency spillway was installed along with stainless steel control valves that are corrosion-proof. There were also upgrades to the hatchery's electrical and alarm systems and repairs to screens at the raceways. The contractor for this project was Martin General Contractors of Eolia, Mo.
The renovation work didn't disturb trout fishing at Roaring River State Park. The park's main supplier of fish – Roaring River Hatchery – wasn't producing fish while construction was underway. The department's Montauk Hatchery in southeast Missouri and Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery near Branson, Mo., supplied plenty of angling pleasure at Roaring River.
The state park's catch and keep fishing season opens March 1.
Although fishing attracts more than 100,000 anglers to Roaring River State Park each year, Spurgeon said many others come just to get a view of the large number of trout swimming in the raceway and to feed those fish.
"Although the hatchery is now fully back in operation, it will take a few months to see all the pools full of fish as fry come out of the hatchery building and other hatcheries haul in new fish," he said.
Roaring River's hatchery office is open until 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. The hatchery grounds are open until 10 p.m. each day.