Booth Society celebrates 30 years of supporting DC Booth Fish Hatchery and Archives

April 21, 2019

SPEARFISH — It was April 11, 1989 — 30 years ago — that the Booth Society, Inc., was officially incorporated.

“It is always great to celebrate a birthday, especially a milestone of 30 years,” Booth Society Executive Director Karen Holzer said. “Thirty years of feeding fish, walking around the grounds, enjoying activities and fundraising events is a great accomplishment! The Booth Society is excited to share the celebration with our community and our supporters.”

Carlos Martinez, hatchery director, explained that in 1983, after 84 years of operation, the federal government temporarily closed the Spearfish National Fish Hatchery, which, in addition to producing trout, had always been a popular tourist attraction and provided a positive economic impact.

“As a result, the city of Spearfish and area residents were committed to preserving this important part of local heritage. With the intent to ensure the facility maintained visitor services, city council created the Hatchery Advisory Board to assist with funding and historical, cultural and educational development,” he said.

The board evolved and eventually morphed into the Booth Society, Inc., an organization to serve as a nonprofit and the financial arm for the city’s support. Its original board of directs consisted of Arden Trandahl, Don Aaker, Herb Aslesen, Larry Capp, Madaline Custis, Lillian “Lee” Ervin, Rich Harr, Paul Higbee, Jim Kelly, Patricia Larson, David Miller, Ruth Quinn, and Lennis Larson.

Martinez explained that following the incorporation, the public voted to approve a Hospitality Tax with the intent of providing perpetual funding for three primary Spearfish attractions, including the recently renamed D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery, Matthews Opera House, and the High Plains Western Heritage Center.

“As a result of the station’s new partnership and enthusiasm shown by the Spearfish and Black Hills communities, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service resumed operations at the hatchery in 1989, and Congress appropriated funding for the construction of a state-of-the-art archival and museum collection management facility, administrative offices, concessions building, and an underwater viewing area,” he said.

Paul Higbee, one of the original board members, said that he remembered visiting the hatchery when he was 7, on vacation with his family from Iowa.

“It always fascinated me, and I felt honored to be part of helping it survive into the 21st century,” he said, adding, “Our mission was to be a local partnership organization with the U.S. Department of the Interior, after it decided to keep the hatchery open as an interpretative and archives center. We talked about historic preservation and public use of structures and made our search for a railroad fish car our ‘holy grail’ mission. I recall quite a debate about whether or not we should develop the underwater viewing area because in no way was that historic. Historic or not, I’m sure glad it happened.

Higbee served on the board for about four years, and he remembered how in 1989 there was a lot of talk about how valuable the archives would be for researchers from anywhere in the nation.

“The Society was excited about that, but equally committed to making sure that Spearfish people continued viewing the hatchery as a sort of extension of the city park, and as a place to come for special events and school tours,” he said.

Higbee pointed to the late Arden Trandahl as a major part of the Booth Society’s success.

“His professional background was federal fisheries work, and he seemed to know everyone at the federal level, and he had a great vision for the hatchery,” Higbee said. “But equally important, Arden was a good Spearfish community member who had a knack for recruiting the right local people for projects.”

Holzer said that the community’s support for the organization is evident looking back on the past 30 years.

“The hatchery has had its ups and downs throughout the years, but the community support of the community and the Booth Society have remained strong,” she said.

She explained that the organization’s Articles of Incorporation of 1989 state that its purpose is to conduct, maintain and promote for Historical, cultural and educational purposes the D.C. Booth Historical Fish Hatchery; to discover and memorialize the history of fish culture with the emphasis on the Spearfish Hatchery; to record and recognize the historical achievements of those making outstanding contributions; to collect, procure, preserve, manage and display objects and materials; and operate a museum to preserve, interpret and display materials and objects for the education and recreation of the public.

“The Booth Society staff, directors and members have taken these objectives to heart and have worked diligently throughout the past 30 years to accomplish the goals, resulting in an active learning environment on the hatchery grounds, as well as emphasizing the importance of preserving the history of hatcheries in the United States,” Holzer said. “Future goals of museum renovation improved exhibits and activities, and increased access to the archives continues the original purposes of the Booth Society. In review, we know we are on track, focused on the goals and objectives that were established 30 years ago.”

Martinez said that 30 year after the Booth Society’s incorporation, with approximately 160,000 annual visitors, the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery is the city’s number one visited attraction.

“The Booth Society has become a success story that is touted by the Fish and Wildlife Service as a prime example the value and potential friends groups and municipal partnerships have,” he said, describing that the city’s parks department continues to provide in-kind support, with Hospitality Tax remaining a vital source of funding. “Because of their efforts, the (Fish and Wildlife) Service can afford to allow public access and outreach, and do so in a safe and professional manner.”

Martinez described that the main reason the Booth Society has been so successful is because of the passion the local community has for the hatchery.

“The Booth Society channels their love and support of the hatchery in magical and meaningful ways to ensure public access to the facility and that visitor services and educational programming remain available,” he said.

Mistie Caldwell, executive director of Visit Spearfish, Inc., a destination marketing agency, said that the Booth Society makes it possible for the hatchery to remain a top visitor attraction.

“Open from dawn to dusk year-round, there is always something for visitors to see,” she said. “The work the Society does in securing quality, dedicated volunteers to run the various internal ‘attractions’ at the hatchery is very much appreciated. … the quality of the attraction speaks for itself. But without the quality training provided by Karen and her staff, visitors would not have the same experience. We are appreciative of the efforts of the Booth Society folks, the D.C. Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery staff, and all volunteers involved in continuing the success.”

Caldwell added that 30 years of success is testament to the hard work of those who had a vision and got the friends group going and seeing the need.

“Thirty years later, it proves that is was a great model – one that has actually been recognized as a national leader,” she said.

Caldwell also served on the Booth Society Board of Directors for many years.

“I have always appreciated the work the Society does on the educational, cultural and recreational side of things at the D.C. Booth National Historic Fish Hatchery,” she said. “The partnership with the federal, state and local governments, the members, the visiting volunteers, the schools, and the community should not be understated. Without the vision of those who chartered this friends group, this iconic site would not be what it is today.”

The Booth Society is always looking for volunteers to assist with events and programming, and more ambitious individuals should consider filling a vacancy on the Booth Society’s Board of Directors. Another vital source of revenue for the organization is memberships, with a variety of levels, from Individual and Family to Silver, Gold, and Platinum, offered.

In the near future, the Booth Society intends to kickoff a capital campaign, with a $400,000 fundraising goal to modernize the exhibits and interpretative displays in the hatchery’s museum, with $125,000 from private donors secured already.

Holzer added that unique products sharing fisheries history and D.C. Booth logos have been designed and produced and are for sale in the hatchery’s gift shop.

“After 30 years, the Booth Society continues to develop, expand, improve and grow,” Martinez said. “Although it has experienced a few growing pains, the organization has never been stagnant. This is a huge achievement for any nonprofit, large or small.”

And the hatchery is looking forward to another milestone soon: Established in 1896, the D.C. Booth Historic National Fish Hatchery will celebrate its 125th anniversary in 2021. Martinez explained that this coincides with the 150th anniversary of the National Fish Hatchery System, established in 1871. The Booth Society has begun planning activities and events for the sesquicentennial and quasquicentennial respectively, including a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service retirees’ reunion.

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