You heard me. Fish hatchery. To be honest, I have been to many fish hatcheries in my life, but only one in state of Oregon—the Willamette Fish Hatchery on the eastern edge of Oakridge.
In general, fish hatcheries terrify me. I have a huge fear of falling into one of the pools. Here’s a scene my overactive imagination has painted—pelted by the force of one thousand slimy tails, I claw my way to the edge of the tank, my skin swollen from the nibbles of the ravenous (cavernous) rainbow trout. The horror!
Fish hatcheries are usually pretty boring. Maybe you’ll find some nature (like the famous eagle-cam nest in Decorah, Iowa) or a picnic area near a pretty stream, but the main attraction concrete tanks full of trout, sturgeon, or steelhead, or salmon. Zzzzz.
Let me shift your fish hatchery paradigm! We discovered the Willamette Fish Hatchery through the Eugene, Cascades, and Coast Geocaching GeoTour. Stretching from the Coast to the edge of the Cascades, the GeoTour covers 200 miles and features 143 caches.
Every time we are in a new corner of the world, I consult the Geocaching smart phone app for ideas on something new and usual. As it turned out, one of the GeoTour caches was hidden at the Willamette Fish Hatchery. Here’s the description that piqued our curiosity:
With a small museum, chainsaw art, a nature trail, and free miniature golf, this fish hatchery is more than just a collection of fish tanks (but the fish are worth seeing). Watch for Chinook salmon, steelhead, a resident sturgeon and adult salmon from June through September.
What? Free miniature golf at a fish hatchery!
To begin, you will find a small museum (open from 7:30 to dusk) with two large fish tanks, interpretive displays, and an assortment of stuffed and mounted wildlife. No one was working at the museum during our visit and we did not stay in here too long (Ever have that “Night at the Museum” feeling like one of the animals is going to come back to life? Yes, I need help.).
Nice modern restrooms and a drinking fountain are located in the structure next to the museum (lower parking lot). The tanks near the museum are the most accessible for families; the tanks in the upper lots were fenced off and I think accessible for larger groups and field trips. Bring quarters if you want to purchase some fish food from the dispenser station.
Located near the upper parking lot, you’ll find the main entrance to the 1/2 mile shaded interpretive trail (start looking for the geocache right away). You’ll see a row of raptors in cages; I assume these are all rescued animals that cannot otherwise survive in the wild.
Constructed with funds from the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife Fish Restoration and Enhancement Program, the course is a nine hole “education golf” course that takes visitors on a fish’s journey from the hatchery to the ocean and back to the hatchery.
Clubs, scorecards, and balls are available (to borrow) in the plastic closet to the right of the first hole. Education golf is different than normal “par” golf where you count the total number of strokes to complete the course (low score wins). In education golf, each player starts with thirty-five fish. One fish is subtracted from the school for each stroke and each hazard the ball falls into. The player with the most fish left at the end of the nine holes is the winner.
The entire course is covered, a nice thing in both heat and rain. Our kids loved this course and it wasn’t too hard (although the obstacles made the game more “interesting” and we had to have a few do-overs). We completed the course in about thirty minutes and I’m fairly certain we killed 105 fish, thankfully the ODFW is doing a much better job in real life.
A few short miles off Highway 58, the Willamette Fish Hatchery is a nice mid-trip stop if you are traveling between Eugene and Bend. If you like high-quality food and craft beer, head into downtown Oakridge and dine at the Brewer’s Union Local 180. Hint: you’ll find another GeoTour geocache here!