that come to the site. Thanks, in part, to the tourism boom of the Branson area, Shepherd of the Hills has become a much-visited ambassador of the Missouri Department of Conservation in southwest Missouri that plays a huge role in spreading the conservation message to the large number of people that travel to the Branson area each year.
Visitors to the hatchery get an up-close-and-personal view of how trout are raised. Through both guided tours and individual walks around the rearing pools, people can get a good look at the trout being raised for release in Taneycomo and elsewhere. Inside the Conservation Center, visitors can get views of live trout and also can see live specimens of some of the Ozarks’ snake species on display in the 50-seat auditorium. This auditorium is also the site of periodic programs and an audio visual program about the hatchery. One of Shepherd’s biggest nonfish events is the annual Vulture Venture program held each February. This event helps visitors learn more about the hundreds of vultures that winter at Lake Taneycomo each year. Nature trails and a photo blind in the vicinity of the hatchery provide visitors additional opportunities to appreciate the area’s natural beauty.
Currently an average of 250,000 people visit Shepherd’s Conservation Center each year. An average summer day’s attendance is 1,200—on a busy day, that daily attendance number has frequently ballooned to as many as 1,800 people. To put that in perspective of an eight-hour work day, that means an average of 300 people per hour are walking through the doors of Shepherd of the Hills’ Conservation Center on its busiest days.
In July of 2008, the hatchery reached an attendance milestone when it received its 6-millionth visitor. This accomplishment takes on added significance when it’s noted that the hatchery, which was built in 1958, didn’t begin keeping attendance figures until 1980.
In addition to sheer numbers, Branson’s far-flung fame as a vacation destination has added another distinguishing characteristic to the crowds that come to Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery each year: They frequently are from elsewhere in the country and, on occasion, from elsewhere in the world.
All these factors made it a perfect location to put an honorary marker for the country’s armed forces that you want people to notice.
“Choosing this location was the Garden Club’s idea,” said Pat Piland, president of the Shepherd of the Hills Garden Club. “The site had to be a location where the marker would be seen by a large number of people, it had to be a civic location (not privately owned), had to have ample parking, had to have room for landscaping, had to have approval of the authorities who owned the land, had to be in a protected area and had to have the commitment of continual upkeep from the owners of the land. Shepherd of the Hills Fish Hatchery met all of the above criteria.” Brown agreed.
“We felt the location added history, beauty and educational opportunities along with being a tribute to all veterans, a way of saying ‘Thank you,’” she said.
When garden club members came to Shepherd of the Hills Hatchery staff with the idea of putting a marker at the hatchery, their request fell on receptive ears.
“When we approached John Miller, he was excited to have the memorial located at the Hatchery,” Piland said. “This has been a good fit from the start.”
Miller feels the Blue Star Memorial Marker is a good fit for the hatchery. Even though the sign makes no mention of the management of fish, wildlife or forests, he said the message it conveys has a definite tie to conservation.
“This memorial reminds us that our veterans helped to protect our people, our way of life and the natural resources of our country,” he said. “This memorial, in such a beautiful setting, will remind everyone of the wonderful natural beauty of the state and this region—and we have our veterans to thank for the protection of this natural beauty.”
Visiting Shepherd of the Hills
Area Hours: September–June: 9 a.m.–5 p.m.
Memorial Day–Labor Day: 9 a.m.–6 p.m.
Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Directions: The hatchery and conservation center are located on Highway 165 just south of Branson, below the dam at Table Rock Lake.
Tours: Guided hatchery tours are provided at 10 a.m., 11 a.m., 1 p.m., and 2 p.m. weekdays from Memorial Day to Labor Day. During the remainder of the year, self-guided tours are available.