By Jody Brumage
For over a century, West Virginia’s sport fishing industry has been supported by federal and state administered hatcheries. We detailed the history of some of these hatcheries in a blog from June 2015. In this week’s Post from the Archives, we are examining the effort to save one of the state’s largest hatcheries in the mid-1990s.
Bowden Fish Hatchery is located along the Shavers Fork River in Randolph County, just a few miles outside of the city of Elkins. Established in 1958 by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the hatchery was built in the early 1960s. Senator Byrd visited the site shortly after construction was completed. At the time, Bowden was the third federal hatchery built in the state after White Sulphur Springs in Greenbrier County and Leetown in Jefferson County.
As news of the proposed closure spread across West Virginia, constituents wrote to Senator Byrd, urging him to step in and secure federal funds to keep Bowden Hatchery open. Students in hunting and fishing clubs at local high schools wrote letters to Senator Byrd opposing the proposed closure. Thousands of West Virginians signed petitions expressing concern for the impact Bowden’s closure would have on the state’s lucrative sport fishing industry. Senator Byrd also received letters from state and national organizations concerned with the proposed closure, including the American Fisheries Society. In May 1995, West Virginia Governor Gaston Caperton wrote to the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior and Related Agencies, explaining the vital economic benefits the Bowden Hatchery provided for the state.
After a year of negotiations, an agreement between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the state of West Virginia was reached in October 1996 to transfer the Bowden Hatchery to the Department of Natural Resources and to provide funds for three years to supplement the hatchery's operation during the transition. On July 1, 1997, Bowden National Fish Hatchery was officially transferred to the state which has operated the facility for the past 20 years. The hatchery continues to produce 170,000 pounds of trout annually which stock West Virginia’s recreational rivers and lakes. The hatchery also continues to hold an annual fishing derby for area children each June, an event started several decades ago, and remains a popular attraction in the area. The story of the Bowden Hatchery represents a successful collaboration between federal, state, and local agencies to ensure that institutions which provide significant economic benefit to a region remain operating even through difficult budget cycles and cuts.