INDEPENDENCE, Calif. — Below the highest mountain in the continental U.S. sits a beautiful building that was not built for people, but for fish. The Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery sits along Highway 395 in Independence, Calif.
If you are looking for the perfect place to stretch your legs, the trout-filled pond and surrounding green lawn just outside the hatchery visitor center is the place to do it, according to Marilyn Bracken.
“Lots of people come up here to picnic and enjoy the grounds," said Bracken.
Bracken is with Friends of the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery, the group operating and preserving the historic property. Built in 1917, the Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery was among the first fish hatcheries in California. Its purpose was to increase fish populations in alpine lakes and creeks.
“It's a beautiful building so it’s a shame not to let people visit it,” said Bracken.
In its heyday, the hatchery raised over 2 million fry -- or baby fish -- a year. Those fish spent the first part of their life in small tanks. If you walk through the hatchery museum, you will learn how those fish were delivered to the lakes in the early days.
“On the backs of horse or mules,” said Bracken. “The fish were put inside tanks, that’s how they hauled the fish up there, and the movement of the horse aerated the water.”
Today, fish at the hatchery don’t make it much farther than the pond outside. In 2008, a massive mudslide destroyed many of the buildings and much of the hatchery equipment.
“There was about 11-feet of mud rushing down the canyon,” said Bracken.
Thanks to volunteers, the mud was cleared and the building was re-opened as a historic site for travelers to visit.
“It's a beautiful building, so it’s a shame not to let people visit it,” said Bracken.
The Mt. Whitney Fish Hatchery is free to visit. You can find a schedule of their tours on their website.
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