Construction will close small portion of Bennett Spring State Park to fishing this spring

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LEBANON, Mo. – Missouri’s March 1 trout opener is all about getting excited about fishing. Thus, Missouri Department of Conservation (MDC) staff admit there is no good way to tell anglers who enjoy catching trout at Bennett Spring State Park that, because of current construction at the park, a small portion of the park’s fishing area is currently closed to fishing and public access for the foreseeable future.

MDC staff emphasizes the area closed to fishing in Bennett’s Zone 1 and 2 represents a small fraction of the approximately 1.5 miles of stream frontage within the park that is open to fishing. However, the fishing spots of many anglers at Bennett (as is the case at Missouri’s other trout parks) are based on personal and family traditions that may go back decades. Thus, MDC staff understands the special connections some anglers have with specific spots in the portion of Zone 1 and 2 that is currently closed.

“One thing that makes Missouri’s March 1 trout opener special is tradition. Some people have fished at the same spot for generations,” said MDC Infrastructure Management Branch Chief Jacob Careaga. “We know that and we appreciate everyone’s patience with this construction project. The work currently underway will result in a state-of-the-art fish production facility that will be able to better serve the needs of everyone who loves catching trout at Bennett Spring.”

This closed area – which is clearly marked by signs – stretches from the hatchery intake on the west bank downstream to the Highway 64A stone bridge. As a result, there will be no access to the top of the dam. Anglers can still access the bottom of the dam from the east bank, but will not be allowed to fish from the west bank, below the hatchery office. At present, it is unclear when this area will reopen to fishing. This closed area is part of the $40 million hatchery renovation project at Bennett Spring being done by Cahills Construction of Rolla. This project includes the installation of a new intake structure, reconstruction of the raceways, water quality improvements, and other upgrades and refurbishments that will improve fish production capability and site resiliency.

One thing that won’t be affected by construction currently going on at Bennett is fish availability. Approximately 6,500 trout will be stocked on opening day to accommodate the nearly 2,000 anglers expected. Because of the disruption the construction has caused to fish production at Bennett Spring hatchery, trout from other MDC hatcheries will be transported to Bennett to support stocking activities on opening day and throughout the year.

“Trout production in MDC’s cold-water hatchery system is a unified effort,” said MDC Hatchery Systems Manager Clint Hale. “Fish, eggs, and fingerlings are routinely transferred between hatcheries to meet fish production and stocking needs. When there’s a shortage somewhere, one or more of the hatcheries always step up to fill in the gaps. Because we have dedicated staff, our hatchery system has worked well, even when there has been incredible adversity, and it will continue to do so.”

In addition to providing recreational activity, trout produced by MDC for fishing at Bennett Spring State Park also provide economic benefits. Each year, 140,000 people fish at Bennett Spring. These anglers are part of the more than two million visitors the park gets annually, and the economic ripple effect all this activity generates in terms of money spent on meals, lodging, gas, etc. Data from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service indicates that money spent on trout fishing in Missouri generates more than $187 million in economic impact each year.

Trout fishing at Bennett Spring has a history dating back to the early 1900s. Currently, MDC manages the hatchery and trout fishing at Bennett Spring State Park. The state park facilities are managed by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources.