At the Durango Fish Hatchery, two new signs were recently put up. The first one forbids overnight parking. Fair enough. But then there’s this curious one prohibiting “vessel launching and takeout.” Are people really trying to run “Rainbow Trout Rapids” inside the hatchery? They don’t appear particularly challenging, and the water doesn’t appear deep enough for a kayak roll – Paddling Fool
With Animas River Days coming up June 1, you might think this could be a precaution hatched up by Colorado Parks and Wildlife, which operates the facility.
Paddling the hatchery raceways would be a coveted “first ascent” of this Animas River tributary.
Next thing you know, a raft of rafting riffraff will follow.
Then comes the flotilla of standup paddleboards.
When the tubers show up, all hope will be lost.
That might be exaggerating it a bit.
The real threat to the local hatchery isn’t the people who use the Animas River but the river itself.
Established in 1903, the Durango Fish Hatchery is the oldest state-owned hatchery in Colorado.
Fishin’ is its mission, raising rainbow trout along with browns, cutthroats and kokanee salmon.
Crews stock 150,000 catchable rainbows and 1.3 million smaller fish in area waters each year.
But something is fishy with Animas River waters. And we don’t mean all the icky 416 burn sludge sullying them.
A fatal disease taints the River of Lost Souls.
That comes from our good friend Joe Lewandowski, CPW spokesman.
Actually, we need expand the “our good friend” salutation to “Joe Lewandowski, a new member of the La Plata Electric Association board and a clean-power advocate, who is also spokes-dude for CPW” or something like that.
Action Line feels empowered with Joe on the co-op top spot. It’s electrifying. Time to get amped.
But let’s get back to the situation at the hatchery.
“Contrary to rumors, we haven’t had to kick out tubers, kayakers and paddleboarders out of the CPW hatchery raceways,” Joe said.
The actual reason for the signs: The Animas River is positive for whirling disease, a fatal condition for trout.
“The disease is caused by microscopic parasitic worms, and it’s most noticeable in recently hatched fish,” Joe said.
“The worm infects the cartilage of the spine. It leads to deformation that causes the fish to be able to swim only in small, tortured circles – thus the name whirling disease,” he added.
There’s no way to put a positive spin on whirling disease.
“If someone in any type of watercraft gets out of the river at the hatchery, the water dripping from their tube or kayak or paddleboard could transport whirling disease to the hatchery,” he said.
The Durango hatchery is currently free of the scourge.
That’s because its water intake system was rebuilt at great expense in the early 2000s. The hatchery now takes in water from a disease-free spring instead of the Animas River, Joe said.
“Whirling disease devastated hatcheries throughout the state and eventually wiped out naturally reproducing rainbow trout,” he added.
So you can see how wildlife workers would have animosity toward the Animas-sodden assembling just a few feet from the hatchery.
Moreover, launching and taking out of the Animas at the hatchery “was getting out of hand,” said Toby Mourning, hatchery manager.
Why risk a fine or ticket? Why be the Typhoid Mary of angling?
“There are plenty of places to launch and take out through town well above and below the hatchery,” Joe pointed out.
Email questions to firstname.lastname@example.org or mail them to Action Line, The Durango Herald, 1275 Main Ave., Durango, CO 80301. You can request anonymity if you use circular reasoning to explain whirling disease.