The area around Bennett Springs State Park began as a mill town in the mid 19th century. Settlers originally found the area as ideal hunting and fishing grounds, but soon realized it was the perfect location for grain and saw mills with a daily flow of over 100 million gallons. James Brice, one of the first settlers in the area, opened the first mill in 1846, and his son-in-law, Peter Bennett, continued the tradition and ran one of the most successful mills. The area around the mill became popular camping ground for farmers waiting to pick up grain from Bennett, and they would pass the time by hunting and fishing. in 1900, the Missouri Fish Commissioner released 40,00 mountain trout into the spring, and a private hatchery was built in 1923. The state of Missouri purchased the spring and surrounding land a year later in 1924, and Bennett Springs became one of Missouri’s first state parks.
The park is now owned and operated by the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, and the Missouri Department of Conservation operates the hatchery. In all, there are nine state-run fish hatcheries in Missouri, and Bennett Springs is one of four cold-water hatcheries in the state. It provides mostly rainbow trout to various bodies of water throughout Missouri in order to keep their populations alive and healthy. The hatchery stocks daily to the springs during the regular fishing season from March 1 through October 31. There are three fishing zones. Zone 1 is from the hatchery dam upstream to the end of the area, and is fly only. Zone 2 is from the hatchery dam to the whistle bridge, and allows only flies and artificial lures. Zone 3 is from the whistle bridge to Niangua River, and allows only soft, plastic unscented bait, or natural and scented bait (NO flies or artificial lures are allowed!). The park also offers other recreational activities besides fishing, including hiking, camping, swimming, canoeing and boating.
We stayed at one of the basic campsites at the beginning of our spring break trip. It was a lovely location, and we spent the afternoon tossing a frisbee around, relaxing in a camping hammock and making dinner! The next morning Neil, Evan and Jennifer went out into Zone 1 and began fishing with the intent of catching our dinner! A few hours later, they still didn’t have any luck, but they all enjoyed the chance to relax along the river while the rest of us slept in a bit at the campsite! Before we left we checked out the visitor center/nature center, and learned more about native Missouri aquatic animals along springs and other water sites in Missouri. We also walked through the long rows of hatchery and watched some of the workers move fish from one area into another. Just before we left, we saw feeding time – what a frenzy! The employee just walked along the edge of the enclosure and poured food in, and the fish completely attacked! They looked like a huge tidal wave repeatedly hitting the wall of the enclosure!
Entry by Annie Gocke and Melanie Cohen
For more information about Bennett Springs State Park, please visit their website.