This past Thursday, Team Monster Nash, bodies fueled on Lucky Charms and cheap coffee, embarked on a 2-hour journey to Dale Hollow Fish Hatchery. After a drive laden with lengthy radio sing-a-longs (Jewel, ZZtop), hillsides spotted with sun-lazy cows, antique Coca-cola signs and rusted vehicles, and a brief introduction with our amiable Ranger, Spencer, we arrived at the fish hatchery. There we met the calm, intelligent and thorough director of the hatchery, Andy, who has worked at Dale Hollow for 15 years.
Andy showed us diagrams of the hatchery, and explained that Dale Hollow is one of six in Tennessee and one of 66 in the States. The hatchery produces over 300,000 pounds of fish a year, almost solely for a high demand of recreational fishing. I say “almost” because the hatchery also provides a stock of Rainbow trout, an endangered fish species. The outcome is around 40,000 visitors and $35 million in tourism for Tennessee, Georgia and Alabama each year. Dale hollow provides cold-water habitat trout to replace warm-water fish, such as bass and walleye, which suffer in the cold-water streams created by the dam. It is evident that fishing is a way of life for many in these areas. As Andy said, his home and the homes of many would not exist without the Dam and the hatchery.
We toured the indoor and outdoor “raceways”—long, narrow concrete pools where the fish are fed and raised. Andy told us that eventually, the fish are released into the waters at a size of 6-8 inches. Until then they are bathed in a saltwater wash to eliminate nitrogen, fed, and sorted by size. This is the daily task of the Fish and Wildlife workers, who we witnessed in the raceways, slowly wading through thickets of miniature, darting trout.
After touring the hatchery, we drove to Pleasant Grove recreation site, a favorite site of ours, where we ate lunch and chatted in the humid but pleasant air. Spencer, like many of the Army Corps rangers we’ve met, grew up in Tennessee and joined the Corps through a Tennessee Tech and Army Corps co-op program. He seems to like his work, and mentioned that in spite of the hot days and occasional wild, daredevil visitors, he’s grateful to have his job.
Post-noshing, Spencer pointed out two areas on the island at Pleasant Grove that needed some work. We split our group into two, half of us painting railings, benches and pavilions, and the other half clearing an area on the edge of the island intended for fishing.
After a couple hours of work, Stephanie, Tyler, Sam and Spencer cleared the jungle of brush like trail-making machines, deftly avoiding. By the time Lindsay, Erica and I were finished painting our hands and some other body parts were abundantly stained the color of melted chocolate bars. We were all excited to clean up, thanked Spencer and dove excitedly into the clear and cool waters of Dale Hollow Reservoir, more refreshing and purely energizing than a can of Red Bull.