Centre County fish hatcheries hook visitors with education, ecology

The Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery, located next to Fisherman’s Paradise, offers educational tours throughout the year.
The Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery, located next to Fisherman’s Paradise, offers educational tours throughout the year. Centre Daily Times, file

Editor’s note: This story is part of the Road Trips special section.

Thanks to its several springs, Centre County is home to some of the best fishing spots in Pennsylvania. It’s also home to the state’s two largest hatcheries — in Bellefonte and Benner Spring — and another major hatchery in Pleasant Gap at 405 Robinson Lane.

“It’s the water quality of the spring that allows us to raise the fish here,” said Doug Hess, the manager at Benner Spring State Fish Hatchery, 1735 Shiloh Road in State College. “Centre County is blessed with water.”

With a pH hovering around neutral and a year-round temperature of about 52 degrees, Hess said, the water here is perfect for breeding trout. Benner Spring alone is responsible for more than 336,000 pounds of average trout production annually, and accounts for more than 1 million fish put into the state’s waters each year.

At the Bellefonte hatchery, located at 1150 Spring Creek Road next to Fisherman’s Paradise, production is similarly robust. Manager John Watson said the spring there churns out 3,000 gallons of water per minute.

But hatcheries offer more than just fins and fluid. Each a wellspring of knowledge in fish husbandry, they see several groups during the year for educational tours, which end with a chance to feed the hatchery’s residents.

“We raise so many fish and we put them out for the kids to catch,” Watson said. “That’s one of our big goals with the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission is to get kids interested in fishing.

“When they start catching fish, they’ll get hooked on fishing just like we did,” he said.

Amidea Daniel, the youth and women’s program coordinator for the Fish and Boat Commission, said Pennsylvania is second only to Alaska, the country’s largest state, in the amount of waterways in which one can fish.

Getting the next generation to appreciate the state’s natural resources involves a number of programs that wouldn’t be possible without the support of the state’s hatcheries. Benner Spring, for instance, supplies all of the fish for the Trout in the Classroom program, which reaches 318 classrooms around the state.

“The hatcheries are a fantastic way for folks to not only learn the different types of trout you can find in Pennsylvania, but also how we raise those fish as well as learning more about the fish and how they survive in the waterways,” Daniel said. “We’ve got a good opportunity here.”

Hess agrees. He said Benner Spring can provide tours seven days a week, and has worked with elementary students to those in college.

“It’s more than feeding and stocking the fish,” he said. “They’re more surprised by the amount of the behind-the-scenes work that takes place in the Fish and Boat Commission to make the hatchery successful.”

Roger Van Scyoc: 814-231-4698, @rogervanscy

If you go

Benner Spring State Fish Hatchery

Where: 1735 Shiloh Road, State College

Info: 355-4837

Bellefonte State Fish Hatchery

Where: 1150 Spring Creek Road, Bellefonte

Info: 355-3371

Pleasant Gap Fish Hatchery

Where: 450 Robinson Lane, Pleasant Gap

Info: 359-5132