COOK, Wash. — In this week's Let's Get Out There, we head out to the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery. There are four national fish hatcheries in the gorge, and this year marks the system's 150th anniversary.
About 15 minutes from Hood River, Ore. is where you’ll find a hidden gem in the Columbia River Gorge at the mouth of the Little White Salmon River on the Washington side.
“This facility is the oldest in the Columbia River Gorge,” said Cheri Anderson, public affairs officer with the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “It's been here since 1896.”
Away from the crowds, but not the noise. The sounds of the river lead you to the Little White Salmon National Fish Hatchery. With 71 hatcheries in 42 states, this is one of four national fish hatcheries in the gorge. June 10 marks 150 years of the national fish hatchery system, and there is plenty to enjoy.
“Our hatchery is here to raise and release spring and fall Chinook,” said hatchery manager Bob Turik.
The hatchery releases 4.5 million fall Chinook and one million spring Chinook salmon. There’s wildlife viewing at the barrier dam near the visitor’s center and other recreational activities to enjoy like boating, kayaking, even fishing on nearby Drano Lake. The facility is completely free to visit.
“I've seen bears out my office window, I have eagles outside, it's not overly crowded at any time,” Turik said.
The dam prevents the fish from running further upstream, where Turik said there’s no spawning grounds up there for the salmon.
“When the dams went in, the pool basically flooded a lot of natural spawning habitat, and so our purpose is to supplement those fish,” he continued. “Once we have our group stock needs, we send excess fish to the Tribes or to the food banks — for utilization as food fish or to the Tribe for ceremonial purposes.”
When the 500-foot fish ladder is open, the salmon are funneled into holding tanks in the visitor’s center where the fish are spawned, with the surplus sent to other hatcheries in the gorge. A public underwater viewing area gives you an up-close look at one of the Northwest’s most important natural resources.
“We currently have several thousand Spring Chinook salmon swimming around in there,” Anderson said. “So it's pretty neat to stop in and see all the fish.”
Over 5,800 adult spring Chinook salmon have returned to the Little White Salmon hatchery so far this year. The fall salmon will be running through October.
“We're kind of hidden treasures — they're great places to come and enjoy the outdoors,” said Anderson.
Find a national fish hatchery near you: https://www.fws.gov/visit-us/hatcheries
Let's Get Out there airs once a week on KGW's 4 p.m. newscast and The Good Stuff, which airs Monday-Thursday at 7 p.m. We're including viewer photos for this series. You can text your photos to 503-226-5088 or post them on the KGW Facebook page.