This month on the Great River Road microcast we feature the Genoa Fish Hatchery. So, When is the Great River Road Interpretive Center open?
Raena Parsons: Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. We just opened this weekend for the weekends from 10:30 to 2:30 p.m.
Bob: Are you guys the only fish hatchery? Or are there more fish hatcheries around?
Raena: There are only two federal fish hatcheries within Wisconsin.
Bob: What exactly happens at the Genoa Fish Hatchery? We drive by it all the time, but it’s usually 55 or 60 miles an hour. You kind of glance over and you see some pools, but I’m not really sure what they’re for. I’m guessing that most of the people listening right now have no idea what those even are.
Raena: It varies by the time of year. We have 20 different ponds on station, ranging in size from one-tenth of one acre to 33 acres. We also have six raceways and seven intensive rearing buildings that make Genoa capable of collection, culturing, and rearing cold, cool, and warm-water fish species. On station, we rear anywhere from 15 to 20 different species of fish. The outdoor ponds are a great habitat for the fish in the summer when the water can warm up. Some of the ponds we use for broodstock production, and broodstock are spawning fish. They’re our own broodstock. We keep the little, small fish, and then we put them out there when they’re adults, and then they actually spawn and lay eggs. Right now, you can actually come down to the hatchery and see the smallmouth bass creating nests. They actually create nests along the shore, and then they spawn in those nests. Our largest pond, which is the 33-acre pond, is for our broodstock minnows. We actually raise our own minnows on station to feed our other fish, so it reduces our cost associated with fish food.
Bob: Can anybody go by and check out the Genoa Fish Hatchery?
Raena: Yes. Actually, the majority of the facility here is open to the public. There are a couple of facilities that are isolation facilities and quarantined for ill or diseased fishes or wild fish that we bring into the station, or eggs, that isn’t open to the public because of biosecurity concerns. But the rest of the station is actually open 7 a.m. until dusk. People can come and walk around the dike roads. The main buildings are going to be open 8 a.m. until about 3 p.m. You can into most of the buildings here on the station. But a good way to figure out where you can go or can’t go is actually to stop in the interpretive center, and we have a self-guided map that you can take, and it talks about what’s in each of the buildings and what changes in each of the ponds because the species of fish you’re going to see in the pond is going to change throughout the year depending upon what we have on station and what gets moved where.
Bob: Can I bring a fishing pole?
Raena: No, you cannot. We actually don’t permit any kind of fishing on station, except for special events. We do do a couple of kids fishing events here on station. We have a kids’ ice fishing day that we do in the winter that’s really popular. We did that one last February, and we actually had more than 450 people come to that event.
Bob: What do you think of the Great River Road?
Raena: I think it’s really a fantastic opportunity to see the region. To have this to go along and see all these different cities and towns is really fantastic.
Bob: With the Genoa Fish Hatchery being on the Great River Road, does that help with the traffic of people that stop in and check it out because it is on such a beautiful, scenic byway?
Raena: It is, and that’s actually part of the way that this facility was funded. That’s where the first original funding came from, through the Highways Commission, because Genoa actually bisects the highway. We have property on both sides of Highway 35, and we get a lot of people who come through here. This year, I think we’re going to get a really large increase of the number of visitors we get here because we have this great, new interpretive center that opened last June. Now it’s open every weekend. We have our volunteers who come in and work. Then I’m hoping this summer we’ll have some special events that happen on the weekends as well for the public, including guided tours and then some touch tanks.
Bob: Raena, what will somebody find for the first time that they go to the interpretive center?
Raena: Coming into the interpretive center, there’s a great map of the Great River Road. That’s the first thing people see. They can explore other options that are on the Great River Road. Upstairs on the main level, if you park in the parking lot, there’s a mezzanine that goes out and you can look over some of our ponds. We also have a green, living roof that’s visited by all four pollinators and bees. Downstairs, we have three main exhibit halls – one on the Mississippi River as a trade highway. Then we have one that talks about the fish and wildlife resources of the area. We have one dedicated to the Battle of Bad Axe, and then one that talks about the Mississippi River commerce. We also have two freshwater aquariums downstairs. We have a stream aquarium, and then a large, deeper water aquarium with sturgeon and catfish and perch and all sorts of stuff.
Bob: Is there a cost at all?
Raena: No, the entire facility is free. The interpretive center is free, and then coming to the hatchery is also free.