Where It All Began
Bennett Spring State Park’s hatchery began as a privately owned facility
In January 1900, the Laclede County (Mo.) Sentinel newspaper stated that the Missouri Fish Commission had stocked 40,000 mountain trout from the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, in the waters that flowed through Brice, Mo., now known as Bennett Spring State Park. And thus, the love affair between trout anglers at the now famous state park began more than 100 years ago. It would be almost another 25 years before a dentist, Dr. Charles A. Farrow from Oklahoma, became the first to establish a privately-owned hatchery to raise trout at Bennett Spring, but as the saying goes, it was just a matter of time.
While Dr. Farrow and a partner took out two lease agreements for land and water rights in 1923 with William and Louie Bennett, the same family for whom the state park would later be named, the new partners would sell their fledging operation to the state within two years. By that time, the first hatchery owners had already secured 50,000 rainbow trout eggs from Neosho and 50,000 brook trout eggs from Wisconsin.
Today, nearly a century later, the Bennett Spring Trout Hatchery is one of the premier fish hatcheries operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation. The hatchery is located inside Bennett Spring State Park which is operated by the Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks and Historic Sites. Ben Havens has been the hatchery manager there since October 2015 and he and his crew of nine full-time employees and one part-timer raise 325,000 to 350,000 trout each year.
“We stock 2.25 fish per fishermen here each year, and we have an average of 140,000 to 150,000 anglers a year. Last year was one of our best years in nearly a decade,” Ben explained.
“In addition to what we stock in the park, we raise 23,000 stockers for our Kansas City urban fishing program and stock the Niangua River with another 7,500 trout each year. Those are our three big commitments. We also help in the big fish hauling operations of the warm water hatcheries at their harvest time, now that we have the bigger fish hauling truck.”
Like many in his profession, Ben grew up hunting and fishing, originally in the Sullivan Illinois area. “I spent most of my youth hunting and fishing all around central Illinois with my family and friends. I started with the Corps of Engineers as a park ranger in their summer program but it still was not what I saw myself doing long term. I got a degree in environmental biology from Eastern Illinois University because I always really liked being outdoors and working with plants and animals but then I did an internship in fish management. The fish research had me sampling streams all over the state of Missouri and suddenly, I realized, this is the best job ever.”
Ben needed every bit of that enthusiasm, just over two months into his new job at Bennett Spring when he and his crew would face one of the area’s largest floods in December 2015.
“Our biggest challenge here is always the weather,” Ben continued. “If the water is off color or the water quality poor for any reason, that’s a problem, just like the flood. It’s not like it hasn’t happened before and of course, it will happen again. Fortunately, we have a great crew. They work hard and are really committed to the job. They are quick to take on any job, no matter the hour of the day. That was really obvious during the flood, when they were out here, working day and night. We can fight the floods but we’ll never completely conquer that aspect of the job. The hatchery crew here at Bennett Spring is top notch and they are the ones to thank for keeping the trout safe.”
“I chose to come here. Before we were married, my wife, Sarah and I used to meet here when I was working at Roaring River Hatchery at Cassville, Mo., and she was finishing college in Columbia so Bennett Spring is really special to us.” They have two children, Eli, age 9 and Harper, age 4.
“The duties here have changed over the years. We’ve upgraded, adding ultra violet water treatment and an oxygen generator that takes natural air and turns it into 95 percent pure oxygen which we add to the water to improve the health of the fish. We’ve seen husbandry and tech changes and as a result, more fish survive and are healthier than ever before in the history of raising trout here.”
He concluded. “This last year, we also added a fish tower that loads fish from the pools to the truck for stocking purposes. These machines are very costly but we built ours in-house, tailored to our needs, with the help of another hatchery for a fraction of that. In the past, our fish always had to be loaded by hand, using a long pole with a net at the end. That’s a lot of back-breaking labor. This has improved crew safety and made their jobs easier and helped to boost crew morale.”
With the ever-present popularity of trout fishing, the future of the Bennett Spring Trout Hatchery, like its history, is solid and secure based in the heart of the Ozarks.http://www.ozarksfn.com/2017/08/30/where-it-all-began/http://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Bennett-Spring-Hatchery-1024x535.jpghttp://www.ozarksfn.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Bennett-Spring-Hatchery-150x150.jpgOzarks RootsBennett Spring,Hatchery,Missouri,State Parks,Trout FishingBennett Spring State Park’s hatchery began as a privately owned facility In January 1900, the Laclede County (Mo.) Sentinel newspaper stated that the Missouri Fish Commission had stocked 40,000 mountain trout from the Neosho National Fish Hatchery, in the waters that flowed through Brice, Mo., now known as Bennett Spring...Laura L. ValentiLaura L. Valentilauravalenti@live.comAuthorOzarks Farm & Neighbor Newspaper