Empowering Youth with Community Outreach Opportunities at Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery
Newly Constructed 3D Archery Course and Educational Programs

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Built on a foundation constructed in the late 1930’s, located 72 miles west of Austin in Texas Hill Country, is one of eight federal hatcheries in the southwest. Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery, named after one of the six dams forming the Highland Lakes on the Lower Colorado River, was authorized by Congress in 1939 and has been operational since 1940.  It is one of 70 hatcheries across the United States managed by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

5th grade student shooting a boar at the 3D archery course at Inks Dam NFH.

The hatchery’s primary mission is raising channel catfish for Tribal partners throughout the southwest region of the United States. Throughout the years, Inks Dam NFH has worked with 28 Tribal partners including Navajo Nation, Fort Apache Indian Reservation, San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Zuni Pueblo, Zia Pueblo, Ohkay Owingeh Pueblo, and Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas, just to name a few.

Summers on the 187-acre property are filled with early mornings of loading fish on a haul truck for delivery and long days of harvesting one of the 30 channel catfish ponds on site. Collecting eggs, hatching fry, and feeding the 190,000-growing fish on station are just some of the many critical duties at Inks Dam NFH. This important work is made possible with a full-time staff of nine and several volunteers. The hatchery also supports diverse summer internship programs for young individuals in high school or college and hosts a variety of community outreach events.

“If our youth don’t develop a love for the outdoors, they will be less willing to continue the ongoing efforts needed to ensure that our natural resources are preserved,” said George Brugnoli, Volunteer Archery Program Coordinator. A grant from Fish and Aquatic Conservation (FAC) Fish Funds Program supported two of Inks Dam NFH’s top outreach programs this year, Archery and the Hatchery Outdoors Program.

Inks Dam National Fish Hatchery started the archery program in 2019 to promote children’s physical and mental health. “Our goals for both archery and fishing programs are to get kids away from their tablets and game consoles and consequently, help them appreciate our great outdoors,” said Brugnoli. The program offers two instructor trainings each year and hosts groups such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H, and various school programs.

The newly constructed 3D Archery Course and Wilderness Trail is a 0.33-mile loop located on the southeast corner of hatchery grounds along the Pecan Grove Trail. There are 11 targets, each representing different animals found in the southwest region of the United States. The 3D course allows up to four shooters to be at each target simultaneously. “Archery and, to a great extent, fishing are two sports at which men and women can compete on an equal basis. It takes skill, not superior upper body strength, to hit the bullseye or, for that matter, take game,” said George Brugnoli. The course is only open to groups at this time however, in the future it will be available to the public.

2nd and 3rd grade students learning how to use binoculars and identify birds at the Inks Dam NFH bird blind. ​

Every year the largest event at Inks Dam NFH is the Hatchery Outdoors Program. Organized by volunteers, the event involves multiple school districts, with classes held over several days, engaging hundreds of 4th and 5th grade students. The children receive tours throughout the hatchery grounds, stopping at different educational stations with hands-on learning tools and props.

“These events expose the local schoolchildren to the importance of the preservation of wildlife and their habitat, the incredible projects and programs at the Hatchery, and seeing firsthand what kinds of work the staff at the US Fish and Wildlife Service/Inks Dam NFH do,” said Linda O’Nan, Volunteer Educational Coordinator.

Volunteers teach the students about fish production, geology, history, native plant importance, bird identification, binocular use and fishing. The Hatchery Outdoors Program is also an asset to homeschoolers, Scouts and other clubs throughout the year.

These programs and opportunities for youth at Inks Dam NFH are made possible through funding sources such as FAC Fish Funds and the dedication of volunteers. Participation in outdoor activities like, hunting, fishing, hiking and birding connects people with nature and empowers the next generation of conservation.

“Increasing public awareness and the understanding of this mission is most enjoyable to the volunteers with the Friends of Inks Dam NFH who step up to lead these outreach activities,” said O’Nan. 

Inks Dam NFH is open to the public seven days a week from 7-3:30pm to walk the hiking trails and fish on the dock on the Lower Colorado River.

Story Tags

Education outreach
Fish hatcheries

Recreational Activities