Salmon River Fish Hatchery Serves as Learning Destination

 

Chinook egg collection process at the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, note this photo was taken before precautions for COVID were in place.

BY: Randy Young, NYS DEC
For many, the return of fall evokes fond memories of annual elementary school field trips to the famed Salmon River Fish Hatchery in Altmar, New York. The sight of colorful leaves blowing about in the fall breeze accompanied the anticipation found inside the long row of yellow school busses lined up outside the hatchery. The familiar sound of squeaking brakes and the clank of the handle as the driver opened the door signaled a stampede of excited students towards the entrance to the facility. And, of course, the sweet smell of… fish!
 

    For more than 40 years, the Salmon River Fish Hatchery has served not only as a world-class fish raising facility, but also as a popular tourist destination and premier educational center. Staffed and operated by the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), the hatchery was constructed to revive and enhance the Great Lakes fishery. Each year, the hatchery stocks approximately 3.5 million trout and salmon supporting more than 100 public waters including Lake Ontario. 

    Educating the public on the function the hatchery serves as an important component of the Salmon River Fish Hatchery’s mission. DEC’s talented team of education coordinators have a passion for sharing their considerable knowledge and expertise, particularly with school-aged children. 

    DEC environmental educator Betsy Ukeritis estimates she conducts thousands of tours of the facility for countless classes and groups each year. The tours offer a fun and interactive way to educate young children about the role of the hatchery and the importance of conservation. 

    “In many ways, we’re raising much more than fish here at the hatchery,” Betsy said. “We’re raising the next generation of environmental stewards by inspiring them to embrace and care for the natural world around them.” 

    Like many other businesses and education centers across the state and nation this year, the hatchery’s visitor center and grounds is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. However, thanks to the collective commitment and creative spirit of the hatchery’s dedicated staff, DEC educators have adapted and found a different way to continue to connect kids with the magic of the Salmon River Fish Hatchery. 

    In early October, Betsy took to DEC’s Facebook Live to deliver a presentation on the building of the Salmon River Fish Hatchery, and the operations of the facility. The live, interactive event featured a detailed discussion and an opportunity for viewers to pose questions to Betsy. 

    “Prior to COVID-19 concerns, I was always driving to schools or coordinating with other partners and organizations to talk to the public about environmental topics,” said Betsy. “So much is virtual now, which means turning things into online lessons, curating resources into one place for easier searching, and offering online discussions.” 

    DEC environmental educators understand the anxiety and frustration remote learning has created. To help support students, parents and teachers, the team designed a page on DEC’s website dedicated to resources for caregivers, teachers, and children to ease the transition and supplement learning about the environment. Aptly titled, “Caregiver, Parent, and Educator Resources While at Home,” the page offers educational lesson plans and learning resources. More can be found online at https://www.dec.ny.gov/education/119886.html. 

    Additionally, DEC continues to hold weekly Facebook Live events on a variety of interesting topics throughout the pandemic. Videos of the events are archived and available on DEC’s Facebook page. 

    Other opportunities for DEC’s youth outreach and education that is always available on DEC’s website is the Conservationist for Kids. This nature and environment magazine includes easy-to-understand information and activities about New York state’s environment and fun and creative ways to explore New York’s abundant natural wonders. You can find issues online at: https://www.dec.ny.gov/education/40248.html. 

    Fourth grade teachers are encouraged to reach out to DEC to receive a class set of 30 copies of Conservationist for Kids, plus a one-page teacher supplement to use in the classroom for free. The holidays are just around the corner and DEC’s Conservationist magazine makes a great gift that comes with an issue of Conservationist for Kids for free with a paid subscription. 

    DEC staff are passionate about the work we perform and enjoy sharing our knowledge and understanding of the environment with younger generations through a variety of mediums. We believe the more you know, the more you grow as a person. 

    We look forward to reopening the Salmon River Fish Hatchery to the public again in the future and anticipate the excitement that the school bus tours bring. Until that time, we invite you to check out our many online educational resources when indoors, and continue do your part by following hunter safety rules, the principles of Leave No Trace, and COVID-19 best practices to help protect yourself and others when outdoors this fall.