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Minnesota's Main Trout Hatchery In Serious Disrepair

LANESBORO, Minn. (WCCO) -- From the gently flowing streams meandering southeastern Minnesota to the quiet lakes, to mine pits and ponds up north.

Trout fishing in Minnesota relies heavily on what's nestled amid the hills surrounding Lanesboro.

"This is the life blood of the hatchery, where the springs are located," said recently retired Manager Pat Schmidt.

For years, he managed the Department of Natural Resources' cold water trout hatchery near Lanesboro. It was built back in 1925 to take advantage of the constant 48-degree spring water flowing from the surrounding bluffs.

"This facility raises more than half of all the trout stocked statewide," said John Lenczewski of Trout Unlimited.

But the aging collection of buildings and rearing ponds is showing its true age. Step inside the nursery building and you are struck by the rusting steel support columns holding up the entire roof.  Other buildings are plagued by black mold due to the constant moisture, and naturally high radon levels in the groundwater must be mitigated to keep workers safe.

Because the hatchery is located near a creek and river, it can be prone to flooding. As recent as 2013, floodwaters overtook a rearing pond and wiped out 76,000 young trout.

"We had about 10 inches of water coming through here where you are standing in 2013. The new office will be over three feet higher," Schmidt said.

Repairs will cost about $5 million. That money is being included in the agency's bonding request to the state legislature and part of the DNR's $130 million capital improvement request for state parks, trails and other state buildings.

DNR Commissioner Tom Landwehr calls the hatchery repair a priority project.

"We have not been putting enough money into maintaining these buildings like you see right here. In fact, we are so far behind we have a $330 million backlog of deferred maintenance," Landwehr said.

Conservation groups call the repairs to the Lanesboro hatchery vital to the overall trout fishery's future.

The rainbow and brown trout raised and released each year will add roughly $700 million to the state's economy.

"In fact trout fishing is the one part of license buying in the state of Minnesota that's actually been growing," Lenczewski said.

With little to no natural reproduction in the state, raising trout in tanks is the only option to a sustainable fishery. However, a well-maintained hatchery will also be their only hope.

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