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Renovations Bring Front Royal Fish Cultural Station’s History Into The Future

Updating the fish hatchery’s infrastructure allows the historic facility to replenish smallmouth bass in local river systems.

There’s a section of old pipe tucked into the corner of the original fish hatchery building at the Front Royal Fish Cultural Station in Front Royal. A relic from the 1930s when the fish hatchery was built, its tongue-and-groove wood planks are bound together by steel bands, and it used to connect the waters of Passage Creek with the ponds of the hatchery. It’s a vivid reminder of the past as the hatchery moves forward into the future.

Constructed by Civilian Conservation Corps workers starting in 1931, the Front Royal fish hatchery completed its first fish stocking of smallmouth bass and sunfish in 1933. Now, 90 years later, the hatchery is ushering in a new era after an extensive renovation. With the renovations, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) is aiming to raise smallmouth bass at Front Royal in addition to musky and walleye, allowing the agency to not only enhance smallmouth populations in the South and Shenandoah rivers, but also to better understand them.

“Front Royal serves as a model for what we’d like to bring to the other facilities,” said DWR Hatchery Superintendent Brendan Delbos. DWR currently operates nine fish hatcheries— five cold-water and four warm-water. “It’s hopefully the start of good things to come for the hatchery system. On a regional level, it’s my prediction is that it’s going to have a great impact if things go as planned. We’re certainly taking good steps toward being able to rebuild the smallmouth bass population in that area.”

The smallmouth raised at Front Royal and stocked into the South and Shenandoah river watersheds will also provide DWR with some important data. “The aquatic biologists in Region 4, Steve Reeser and Jason Hallacher, have come up with a clever study that will allow us to see how these fish disperse after stocking,” said Delbos. “They’re going to be looking at any limitations that there might be in those systems that are preventing the smallmouth bass from really repopulating and taking off like we saw historically. We’re quite excited that fish raised at Front Royal will be used for scientific purposes in addition to providing recreational opportunities for anglers.”

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