SALESVILLE -- It takes only a dollar to set off a feeding frenzy at Norfork National Fish Hatchery, the nation's largest such federal facility.
Popping four quarters into a vending machine at the hatchery on a southern arm of Norfork Lake in the Natural State's far north buys a handful of food pellets. Youngsters and adults can toss the nuggets into one of 96 raceways that nurture fledgling trout of three species in various stages of growth. The result is a maelstrom of a food fight.
One of three national hatcheries in Arkansas, Norfork produces the most fish among the 70 such U.S Fish & Wildlife Service operations scattered across 35 states. Each year, it releases more than 2 million rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout. Think of it as an outdoor aquarium brimming with future catch-and-release beauties.
Displays in the visitor center explain the process, which takes about 22 months from the arrival of eggs in chilled containers to the release of trout into rivers, lakes and streams once they're at least 11 inches long.
The eggs take about 14 days to hatch before being shifted to indoor aluminum troughs until able to feed on solid nutrients. After further growth in concrete holding tanks, they are transferred outdoors when roughly 6 months old. Some 25,000 gallons of water per minute are pumped through the raceways.
Hatcheries such as Norfork, according to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service, were created "to replace fish that were lost from natural (drought, flood and habitat destruction) or human (over-harvest, pollution, habitat loss due to development and dam construction) influences to establish fish populations to meet specific management needs, and to provide for the creation of new or expanded recreational fisheries opportunities."
Supporting the facility, which opened in 1957, is the nonprofit Friends of the Norfork National Fish Hatchery. The group's website asserts that "the hatchery is the economic driver of Baxter and Marion counties for fishing, lodging and retail sales," creating about 1,000 jobs. It is also "the most visited tourist attraction in Baxter County with nearly 250,000 visitors annually."
Next to the hatchery flows Dry Run Creek. According to the Friends site, "this one of a kind stream is filled with trout, including some monsters that get caught each day. For kids under the age of 16 and mobility impaired individuals, it would be tough to find a better place to come wet a line and have a great chance of catching a true wall-hanger (of course, we ask that you take a picture and release the fish to be caught again)."
On the calendar for June 9 is the hatchery's 2018 Kids Fishing Derby, along North Fork River at Quarry Park below Norfork Dam, with registration starting at 8 a.m. Preschoolers will fish from portable fishing tanks. Trophies for first, second and third place will be presented for age groups 2-5, 6-10 and 11-15.
Norfork National Fish Hatchery, 12 miles southeast of Mountain Home and two miles east of Salesville on Arkansas 177, is open 7 a.m.-3:30 p.m. daily except federal holidays, including Memorial Day. Admission is free. For information, visit fws.gov/norfork or call (870) 499-5255.
Don’t touch: A sign warns visitors of the Norfork National Fish Hatchery.
Weekend on 05/24/2018
Print Headline: Huge fish hatchery has plethora of delights for visitors