Bennington Fish Hatchery turns 100 years old
BENNINGTON >> Frank Snow was a freshman in high school when he first got a job at the Bennington Fish Hatchery, mowing lawns after school and on weekends.
As a junior and senior, he only scheduled morning classes and spent afternoons at the hatchery during the spring and most days in the summer.
"I graduated high school on a Friday. And the paperwork was already done — I went to work for them the following Monday morning as a full-time employee," Snow recalled.
The Bennington Fish Hatchery turns 100-years-old this year and a celebratory event is being planned for Aug. 6.
Snow worked there for 45 years seeing numerous changes in technology and practices along the way. He eventually rose through the ranks to become a hatchery supervisor, a position he held for 28 years before retirement in 1996.
One of five hatcheries run by the state's Department of Fish and Wildlife, Bennington's is the largest producer of stocked fish for the state's inland waters of Vermont. Three different type of cold water trout — brook, brown and rainbow — are raised from eggs and stocked in waterways to restore fish populations and for the benefit of anglers.
When Snow became superintendent in 1968, he moved into the superintendent's house with his wife and two children.
"It was a great place to grow up," said his son, Rick Setzer. "I think at the time, we sort of felt we were far away from friends. They had cable TV, we had an antenna on a pole. But we grew up outside. We were sliding down the hills in the winter, fishing in the summer. We had the biggest playground you can imagine between the lawns and the brooks we could explore. We learned to love the outdoors, grew up with a respect for hunting and fishing."
Setzer remembers his father keeping watch the night before the opening of fishing season, when every kid in town — and adults — would try to angle fish at the hatchery.
"People have stopped him and said, 'Do you remember me? Well, you got me by the back of my neck once because you caught me fishing when I was a kid."
There's been a lot of changes, Snow said, a notable one being what fish are fed.
"We used to feed fish ground beef liver and pork melts," he said. "It wasn't until later they introduced pellet food."
Snow and others would hand fertilize the brood fish. But today, all of the hatchery's eggs come from the Salsbury hatchery.
Monty Walker, the section chief and fish culture specialist at the Bennington Hatchery, said some practices have stayed the same.
"We've done the best we can to meld new with old, trying to keep the old character," Walker said.
Liver has been replaced with specially formulated pellets and the hatch house uses spring-loaded feeders. But staff still often hand-feed the smaller fry and larger trout.
While Snow would have to clean debris from above and around the ponds and raceways keep out predators like great blue heron, Walker said, which can eat up to 10 pounds of fish in one day.
Hatchery staff still stock rivers, brooks and streams themselves. They use five-gallon buckets, similar to the milk cans that Snow used. It's all still gravity-fed by the South Stream and a natural spring, Walker said, and is disinfected with ozone in addition to a UV filter system.
Snow considers having the hatchery added to the National Registry of Historic Places, an initiative he spearheaded in the mid-90s, to be one of his biggest accomplishments. It's an important piece of the state's history, he said. And the buildings and grounds are still in use today, he said.
The original superintendent's office, built in 1917, is now a visitor's center and office space. Still standing is the original 1917 hatch-house, which houses "fry" in concrete troughs and eggs in incubator trays, and concrete "raceways" and ponds that house older trout.
The superintendent's home that Snow once lived in was built in the 1940s as a WPA project, and Walker still lives there today.
The hatchery is open seven days a week year-round. Visitor hours are 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. For more information about the hatchery or to schedule a tour, call the hatchery at 802-447-2844 or visit www.vtfishandwildlife.com/fish/fish_stocking/vist_a_hatchery.
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