Decorah and Decorah North Eagles > Decorah Lounge 2021

Decorah Fish Hatchery Tour

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"I'll tell you about it because I am here and you are distant."
 Richard Brautigan (In Watermelon Sugar)

Welcome to your tour of the Decorah Fish Hatchery, home of the Decorah Eagles!

Before we begin, it might help if you know that the Decorah area has two special geological traits.
   1) This is the Driftless Region, dodged by the most recent glaciers. So this area was not flattened, and was then cut up into rugged bluff valleys by the meltwater from the north. So we are talking hilly and woodsy, not typical Iowa at all.
   2) This is a karst region, which means those hills are limestone perforated by caves, sinkholes, and coldwater springs feeding fast little streams and rivers. It makes for ideal trout water.

   3) There are thousands of undeveloped state-owned acres in the area, also unusual for Iowa.

Hills + trees + water + fish + wild lands = Heaven for wildlife, including eagles.

Now on with the tour! Please stay near your guide, as parts of the tour are steep and have uncertain footing.

Siewer's Spring provides cold, clean water for the trout.

This lovely spot is a favorite for wedding and graduation pictures. Above the falls, a small dam diverts some water to the hatchery.

Because rainwater moves quickly through the fractured limestone, in spring or after heavy rains the water is muddy. The hatchery runs it through this settlement basin at those times.

It is sloped so they can drive in to dig out the muck later.

The water is then tested, oxygen added as needed, and extra nitrogen removed.

And now on to the trout! This shot is taken from atop that oxygenation tower. The Decorah Eagles tree is right up the middle of this picture and across the road.

Each of those tanks has hunerds-n-hunerds of little trout, so there are about elebentybillions total, a little elf told me.

They go wild when you walk up to the edge of the tank, expecting to be fed.

a short video:
There is mesh over the top to keep out eagles and curious hands.

One tank has some real monster beauties, 16" and more.

These are breeders that have been culled from the Manchester facility (the Decorah Fish Hatchery is no longer a hatchery). A few of these trophies are put into area streams each week.

In addition to the bathtub-size tanks, there are also two larger pools. They have electric fence around the edges, I think to keep out raccoons, but for eagles it is open season.

The Hatchery is a favorite of kids who can feed the fish. Those riffles are the trout looking for food.

a short video:
All those trout eating all that food means a whole lot of trout PS and a few unfortunate deaths. So the water drains over to a pond where stuff can decompose before it gets into the trout stream. This is where the eagles can grab dead fish each morning.

Oh my, those eagleholics have been spraying graffiti again.
Excuse me ma'am, please don't stalk the wild asparagus.

Despite all the pipes and concrete, the hatchery is a beautiful setting. The buildings are lovely Craftsmen-style stone structures built during the Depression by the CCC ...

... even the toilets...

... but on the inside those are just plain outhouses. The state is now installing up-to-code water and sewer systems. These will serve all the buildings, including the new visitor center. On the day I shot this tour, a new wellhouse was delivered.

That thing is all concrete, including the roof! Not horrible, but maybe Friends of the Hatchery can help the state upgrade it to something more aesthetically pleasing.

The new visitor center will include modern ADA-compliant bathrooms, a picnic area, and interpretive info on the hatchery, riparian and watershed issues, and of course eagle info! It will be stone and timberframe, to match the style of the original buildings.

All this is in a parklike valley.

There are picnic spots.

It's a nice stop on Decorah's new bike trail.

With benches at a prime nest-viewing spot.

And there are plenty of spots for kids to explore.

Sorry, kiddo ... those sunglasses you dropped in are far downstream already.

Wildflower gardens are planted here and there.

And the neighbors around the hatchery keep their places nice, too. The Diva supervises this neighbor from the barn above.

This home is just across the stream, close to the spring.

That paved trail runs along the stream, permitting fishing even for those in wheelchairs.

Let's head downstream and check out the blufftop!
A couple hundred yards takes us beyond the hatchery facilities, and the stream gets more natural. Watch your step, please.

The stream flows up to the base of the bluff ...

... and becomes surrounded by larger trees like these cottonwoods ...

... no it's not THAT cottonwood!

Half a dozen steps through the frigid water and it's climbing time. CAUTION: Iver grew up like a goat scrabbling and clambering on these slopes. Not for the faint of heart, even for mountaineers. Your pitons and ropes won't help much in this loose scree and dirt.

It's a steep slope covered with all the stuff that erodes off the bluffs.

Trees and brush do find a spot here and there, and have obscured the bluff face a lot since Iver's youth.

They offer an occasional footrest or handhold and we reach the top. Sorry, neighbor, we crossed the state's property line by a couple dozen feet to get through a ravine, but the old stile put us back over the line fence where we belong.

Now we can see it all like the eagles do. The spring is on the far left, hatchery complex running left to right, with the eagle's hosts across the road, and the horse farm above.

Looking more closely at "home" can you find the nest?

Oh yeah, you don't have eagleeyes. Sorry.
Right there!

Now we better get down from here, back onto flat land where we belong. Leave this spot to our friends!

Thanks for joining my tour of the Decorah Fish Hatchery! Come visit us in person sometime. Decorah has lots more for you to see on your visit. And remember, when cruising the roads or searching the web, you are looking for ...

not for

though they are a fun stop too, and not at all what you'd expect.

about the author: Iver grew up in Decorah long before eagles were anywhere nearby. As a teen, he built a cabin (shanty, really) with his friends near here, where they held all-night discussions on the role of trout fishing in the bohemian lifestyle while drinking green tea.

"It's strange how the simple things in life go on while we become more difficult."
- Richard Brautigan

Thanks for the tour and I hope to get to see it next year in person!! I am already starting to save money!!

Iver, that was wonderful. Thank you so much!

Amy Ries

Thank you Iver, it almost felt like I was there enjoying the scenery!

Thank you so much for the wonderful tour Iver.  Very enjoyable.


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