Lake Fish Hatchery

The Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District had a prominent role in Yellowstone National Park’s fishery management program. The historic district is on the north shore of Yellowstone Lake, the largest mountain, high altitude lake in the United States at 7,733 feet above sea level. The lake is approximately 20 miles long and 14 miles wide. The lake harbors six fish species: cutthroat trout, longnose dace, redside shiners, lake chub, long nose suckers, and lake trout. The former two are native; the latter four were introduced in the mid-1900s.

To the east of the Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District is the Lake Historic District. It includes the main concession area for the Lake area (Lake Hotel, Hamilton general store, Lake Lodge and NPS Lake Ranger Station). This section (Lake Historic District) will be developed at a future time.

The Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District consists of nine buildings, constructed for the Fish and Wildlife Service. The fish hatchery activities function was halted in the 1958. Shortly thereafter (during the Mission 66 project [a 10 year effort to upgrade facilities in the parks]), the Lake Hatchery site was adapted to use as headquarters for the southern Lake Maintenance district for Yellowstone National Park.


The Lake Fish Hatchery Historic District buildings are significant for their architecture and for their role in the conservation policies of the National Park Service under Criteria A and C. The buildings which remain, built between 1930 and 1932, were constructed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, they follow in whole or part the Rustic Architecture of the National Park Service and its policy of nonobtrusive design which flourished during the 1920s, 1930s, and early 1940s. The buildings are of wood with log framing and cedar shingle roofs. Most are painted a nonintrusive brown with dark green trim. Even though their use varies, the buildings blend with each other as well with the natural surroundings.

The fish hatchery (Building 726) is a fine example of the log exterior framing found in  the area. It is currently used by Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service to support of fisheries research on Yellowstone Lake. This structure was constructed in approximately 1927. The building faces south towards Yellowstone Lake. It is constructed in a modified rectangular form, having one story open to the roof. Square footage of the large structure is 3,464. It rests upon a concrete foundation with a cement plaster finish. The walls have exterior log framing with notable use of massive corner logs with doubled logs equal in size spaced along the wall surfaces while medium-sized logs frame the window openings. Reverse board and batten sheeting is used inside the framing. The gabled roof is covered with wood shingles doubled every course. Structural details include extended log wall plates, purlins, rafters, and ridgepoles. The structure has six light hopper type windows and is painted brown with green window and roof trim. There is an attractive arched log truss on the sidewall and a large rubble stone chimney which extends through the roof.

Condition of the structure is poor. The paint has worn away and rafters show areas of decay. The roof needs to be replaced. The concrete steps to the entry are deteriorated as is the plaster finish of the cement foundation.

In 1872, Congress established Yellowstone National Park “… for the benefit and enjoyment of the people and for the preservation, from injury and spoilation of all timber, mineral deposits, natural curiosities or wonders…, and their retention in their natural condition.” This mandate caused Federal policies to evolve concerning hunting and fishing in the National Parks.

When Yellowstone National Park was created about 40% of its waters were barren of fish.  Park administrators early expressed an interest in developing these areas for additional sport. Until 1883, both hunting and fishing were allowed in Yellowstone as the only practical way to feed visitors evolving from a frontier subsistence policy. By the early 1880s there were enough hotels and restaurants to allow a ban on hunting. At the same time, fishing was restricted to sportsmen and a few commercial enterprises who supplied the hotels. This continued until 1917.

In 1889, the United States Fish Commission began fieldwork in Yellowstone. A fish cultural station was in operation on Yellowstone Lake ten years later. “It was the beginning of a gigantic hatchery operation that in the next fifty seven years would yield 818 million trout eggs for use in other waters (mostly outside Yellowstone.)” In 1911, the Yellowstone Park Lake Station was made a substation of the Federal hatchery at Bozeman, Montana.

Facilities were primitive in those days. The fish hatching ponds were wooden troughs outside. These were consistently damaged by bears and the eggs destroyed. A permanent two story log hatchery building and another log building were constructed on hatchery Creek near the Lake Hotel in 1912, along with a collecting station at Clear Creek in 1913. The Columbine Creek collecting station was built in 1914 and a cottage for the superintendent a few years later. These buildings no longer exist.

In 1917 the Bureau of Sport Fisheries and Wildlife “was authorized by law…to act as advisors to the states regarding fisheries legislation” and a tie between the Federal and State levels was established. In the meantime, the Federal hatcheries program expanded and by 1937 the Bureau operated 88 major fish hatcheries throughout the U.S. The administration of Lake hatchery was handled after 1951 through Spearfish, South Dakota.  This jurisdiction was later changed to Bozeman, Montana, and eventually to Saratoga, Wyoming. The hatchery also had aquaria and exhibits. These were heavily visited by the public, providing a method by which the public was informed of the conservation philosophies of the times.

As early as 1920, the Annual Report of the Director of the National Parks indicated the Lake Hatchery was replenishing the depleted fish supply in the National Park Service. In 1922, the scale of the operations was increased with a new hatchery being established at Fish Lake. The annual report for that year proposed “…that a Federal hatchery be established in other national parks whenever that is feasible.” This philosophy of using artificial means to replenish the fish of the National Park System waters was soon to be abandoned. The old U.S. Fish Commission had been combined with the Bureau of Sport  Fisheries and Wildlife to form the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. “While on the one hand the National Park Service was suppose to be preserving native fish populations, on the other hand the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service was supposed to mass produce trout.” The tension grew between the Fish and Wildlife Service and park managers. In 1957, the hatcheries were shut down. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel shifted their attention to research. In 1958, the artificial propagation of fish at Lake was halted and the catch limited to a figure within the natural regenerative powers of the species.

In 1996 the National Park Service assumed responsibility for managing the park’s fishery program.