The Mountain Laurel
The Journal of Mountain Life

Visit us on FaceBookGenerations of Memories
from the
Heart of the Blue Ridge

A Salute To Mountain Ingenuity

By Susan M. Thigpen © 1992

Issue: April, 1992

The Mountain Laurel would like to salute the Marion Trout Hatchery which is a part of Virginia's Department of Game and Inland Fisheries. In this day of rampant government spending, they have done something totally unheard of, and deserve to be recognized.

Marion, the oldest of the state's hatcheries is also one of the most visited. The Marion community considers it a landmark, and because it is so close to I-81, Hungry Mother State Park and the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area it gets a lot of attention.

The Hatchery was using old redwood troughs (to raise trout from the fry to the fingerling stage) that were 35 years old and leaking badly. Some had already collapsed, dumping hundreds of gallons of water and thousands of trout on the floor. They were badly in need of major renovations, but knew there were no definite increases in Department funding for it.

Beginning July 1, 1991, the Hatchery personnel took matters into their own hands and solved their own problem by rebuilding the inside of the hatchery themselves. Hatchery manager, Jerry Sheets, said, "We were getting very concerned about visitors coming into the hatchery, for fear one (trough] would collapse on them. It was also getting difficult to raise trout!"

Some funding was scraped together from other sources within the Department and Fish Division's operational budgets and the staff took it upon themselves to rebuild the entire inside of the hatchery. "It was a group effort," said Sheets. "We got personnel help from other hatcheries, a biologist's aid and one part-timer plus the use of certain tools and equipment from the other hatcheries. Many of us have been working together in the state's hatcheries for 20 years, so there was a spirit of cooperation."

The wooden tanks were removed, the stainless steel tanks transferred to warm water hatcheries and all the plumbing was removed from inside of the hatchery. Sheets and his crew then proceeded to build 24 new concrete holding tanks, or ponds, five of which were of double width for use as "grow-out" ponds. These ponds were especially for the very small trout that needed some growing time before being placed in the ponds outside this summer. To complete the inside workings, the hatchery will be receiving some Heath-style trout incubator trays from the White Sulphur Springs National Fish Hatchery in West Virginia. Up to now, they were using incubators from the Paint Bank and Wytheville Hatcheries. The old hatchery jars were transferred to warm water hatcheries.

Additionally, some leaking and deteriorating 65 year-old concrete water control structures were repaired in the 30 ponds outside the building. "We just took sledge hammers and broke them down," said Sheets. "We made forms and re-poured them with reinforcement and recapped them." Twenty-four more will be refurbished by this summer.

The whole project was budgeted at about $25,000. It was done for under $10,000, and "probably closer to $8,000", according to Sheets. To contract out the job would have cost $35,000 or more! All the while, the staff continued its fish rearing work - a year round job when it comes to trout, as well as saving the Virginia sportsmen at least $25,000!

Construction is also underway to build a small visitor center within the existing building, complete with some displays and information racks. If you would like to visit this hatchery, you can take the Route 16 exit off of Interstate 81 in Marion, Virginia. At the end of the exit ramp, turn towards Mount Rogers instead of Marion, and the hatchery will be on your left after you travel 1.6 miles.

There is a point to this story. It came to us as a press release from the Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, but it set our minds to working. In this election year, you hear a lot about wasteful spending in the government and all of it is usually justified. But, just think what the government could be like if it would take heed of what can be accomplished by a little good, old fashioned, applied mountain ingenuity and elbow grease!

Common sense prevailed, the job was completed four months after it was started, and in November, the trout rearing portion of the hatchery was ready for production so that when trout season starts this year, fishermen and women will be catching their limit (according to their abilities) as usual.

Ah, if only the same thought processes and abilities could be applied to all the areas of government, the possibilities might be endless!