New display documents 84 species

More than 60 MFL Mar-Mac second graders recently viewed the new fish display.


By Pam Reinig, Register Editor


There’s a new display at Big Spring Trout Hatchery designed to show visitors the diversity of aquatic life found in the Turkey River Watershed.

Framed photos of 84 different fish species line a wall of the spacious reception area in the hatchery facility, which opened about 18 months ago. The new building, which was financed with proceeds from fishing licenses and trout stamps, replaces a structure that was destroyed by the 2008 flood. Fisheries biologist Gary Siegwarth has been planning the display ever since his team moved into their new offices.

“I’m obviously fascinated with the diversity of species that few people get to see even though most can be found on nearly any stretch of the Turkey River,” Siegwarth said. “For example, the banded darter is as colorful as any tropical fish but you aren’t likely to catch one when you’re out fishing because they live under rocks and in the small spaces between rocks.”

Siegwarth has been keeping lists of all the species that have been collected as part of various surveys conducted by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources. He used the lists to create the display.

Mark Collins, Sign-n-Frames, Elkader, assisted with the project. The large watershed map is printed on canvas wrapped around a stretcher bar frame. The images of the fish were printed on a thin plastic. Velcro strips were attached to the back so that the display can be moved from place to place.

The display can be viewed by anyone who stops by the visitors’ center. Recently, more than 60 MFL Mar-Mac second graders had the opportunity to look at the photos, listen to Siegwarth’s presentation on aquatic life and do a little fishing during a field trip to Big Spring. As part of his presentation, Siegwarth discusses the adaptability of various species. For example, the Northern hog sucker has a special body shape that enables them to live on the bottom of the river in a strong current.

“I talk about a whole variety of things related to the fish display,” Siegwarth said, “from the geological history of the typography of Northeast Iowa to basic information about the Turkey River and the 1,084,086-mile watershed to the land-water connection.” Naturally, he also touches on fish biology. Including the different strategies various species use for feeding, spawning and overwintering.

“Overall, our goal is to create a better awareness of the Turkey River and the wide variety of species it supports,” Siegwarth said. “I’d also like to create a better awareness that everything that happens on the land is directly reflected in the quality of the river.”

Big Spring is fed by the largest cold-water spring in Iowa. Flows from the spring range from 20,000 to 30,000 gallons per minute but can reach as high as 150,000 gallons per minute. Unlike many other hatcheries that depend on electricity and other energy sources to direct water flow, Big Spring relies solely on gravity.

About 150,000 brook and rainbow trout are reared in the raceways at Big Spring and then used to stock 14 different cold-water rivers and streams in northeast Iowa, including the Turkey River, which gets a few hundred fish three times a week. 

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