LEADVILLE, Colo. (CBS4) – There aren’t many things still operating since the days of Colorado’s mining boom in the late 1800s. Last weekend the Leadville National Fish Hatchery turns 125 years old, but this could be its last year in business.
It was the summer of 1889 when the Bureau of Fisheries picked Leadville, the first in the West, because of the abundant water flowing down the slopes of Mount Massive.
“The only thing that’s been here that long is our hatchery building. It was completed in 1890. It’s on the National Historic Registry,” said Ed Stege, who runs the hatchery.
“The kids love to come out and with a quarter and get a handful of fish food and come and feed the smaller fish that are down here,” said Judy Cole, who runs the nonprofit Friends of the Leadville Fish Hatchery. “And then there’s some large display fish in the pond closer to the hatchery building.”
The Leadville hatchery is one of the biggest tourist attractions around Lake County, easily drawing 50,000 visitors a year.
“We produce anywhere from 60,000 to 200,000 10-inch rainbows each year,” Stege said. “It’s been estimated our economic impact to the local area and Colorado is over $3 million.”
That impact is just from fish stocking. But arguably the hatchery’s best work is inside the historic building. Runs in the building are filled with the endangered greenback cutthroat trout.
“To hopefully someday get it off the endangered species list,” Stege said.
It’s the second oldest continuously working federal hatchery. But the historic site and the work being done there might not be open much longer.
“Nationally, budgets in the fish hatchery system have been declining over the last 10 years, and with that we keep trying to do more and more with less and less money,” Stege said.
“I love this place. To me there’s something magical and mysterious about it,” Cole said. “Yes, it is threatened … we’re optimistic that with our lobbying efforts we hopefully have had a role in trying to save it.”
“I think it’s fairly important for Colorado to play in the environment and recreation,” Stege said.
It will be up to the head of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife department to keep the hatchery open. Several Colorado congressmen are trying keep the funding in place.