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Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery is unique free Branson fun

One of many “raceways” at the Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery containing thousands of trout. The wire covers are to protect the trout from predatory birds and animals particularly the Grey Heron.

BRANSON, Mo. From its 100 plus live shows of every type to the 43,000 plus surface acre water playground of Table Rock Lake, the 22 mile long Lake Taneycomo, attractions, museums, shopping, theme and water parks, Branson, Missouri has so many different and unique things for visitors to do one could wonder if an argument could not be made that it is truly the “Live fun and entertainment capital of the world. “Amid all that Branson has to offer there are a number of unique and “lesser traveled,” opportunities such as the “Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery” at the foot of Table Rock Dam,” said Tammy Johnson, the Director of Operations for the Branson Tourism Center. “It’s fun, educational and exciting for the whole family,” she continued.

The “Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery,” is located less than about ten minutes from the famed Branson Strip at the foot of Table Rock Dam just off of State Highway 165. It is operated by the Missouri Department of Conservation and is part of a complex occupying 211 acres along with a “Conservation Center” consisting of trails, a wild life refuge, and a Visitor Center that is visited by a quarter of a million plus visitors annually.

The hatchery was established in conjunction with the building of Table Rock Dam in anticipation of the water temperatures of Lake Taneycomo being drastically reduced because of the cold water that would be released through its turbines for power generation after the dams completion and, for all practical purposes, changing it from a “warm water” lake to a “cold water” lake. Construction on the hatchery started in 1957 and the first trout were ready to stock in Lake Taneycomo when Table Rock Dam started generating power in 1959. The primary source of the cold water used throughout the hatchery is from the lower depths of Table Rock Lake from approximately the same depth that water is drawn into the dams four generators.

The result, in terms of numbers of trout caught, was the creation of one of the finest trout fisheries in the United States. The hatchery produces over 1.1 million Rainbow and Brown Trout annually, of which about 475,000, 10 to 12 inch trout, go into Lake Taneycomo. Interestingly, the other 225,000 trout that go into Lake Taneycomo annually come from federal hatcheries, primarily Neosho, which are required by federal law to provide 225,000, nine inch, trout per year to replace the “warm water” fish that the building of Table Rock Dam displaced. A standing comment by those fishing Lake Taneycomo when they catch a small trout is “That’s a Neosho fish.”

The inside of the Visitor Center features an interesting nature display and a short video on the hatchery and the process involved with producing the trout that makes Lake Taneycomo the premier trout fishery it is. It also has a huge aquarium with some “lunker” Brown and Rainbow Trout showing the  size that some of the trout that Lake Taneycomo is capable of producing.

The area outside the Visitor Center has displays of wildflowers and plants common to the Ozarks. They are displayed in a natural setting and most are identified. The Visitor Center also has maps and information showing the system of four trails that winds through the undeveloped area of the Conservation Center. These trails vary in length and are ideal for families to share together. The “White River Corridor Trail” is particularly enjoyable because it parallels Lake Taneycomo for almost its entire length and is only .4 of a mile.

Guided tours of the hatchery depart the Visitors Center from Memorial Day to Labor Day on weekdays at 10 and 11 a.m. and 1 and 2 p.m. Visitors are welcome to tour the “race ways,” “trout runs,” by themselves during normal business hours. They will see thousands of trout in the various stages of development from the smallest of trout to the large “brood stock” that is used to produce them. The Visitor Center opens at 9:00 a.m. every day except, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Years Day.

Shepherd of the Hills Trout Hatchery provides a wonderful way for families and other Branson visitors to spend a few minutes or hours experiencing another one of those things that makes Branson, Missouri the special unique travel destination that it is.

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