Chicken is a Girl Scout and I am one of the the troop’s fearless (well, fearful) leaders. Spring has arrived and so has overnight trip season. This time, we were headed to the Girl Scout camp outside of Stevenson, Washington. After our weekend there, we decided to break up the drive home with stops at Bonneville Dam as well as the fish hatchery.
I remember going to both of these places as a child, but as my only clear memory was of the Herman the sturgeon, I was curious to return. We headed to the dam first. We arrived with enough time to sign up for a tour, go downstairs to the fish viewing area, and take a quick peek at the gift shop.
The girls really enjoyed the fish viewing area. There are several windows and you can see the fish as they attempt to make their way up the fish ladder. There are informational sheets available to help you figure out what kind of fish you are seeing, and there is a measuring tape at the bottom of the window should you wish to try and estimate the size of the fish that swim by. The number of fish you will see varies with the time of year. Also in the downstairs area is information about the natural and hatchery life cycle of the fish, history of the facility, and other educational displays.
When we headed back upstairs for the tour, we found Ranger Meg waiting for us as well as a couple of families. She spoke for 20 minutes or so about the dam, it’s history, it’s function, and how it works. A slide presentation gave nice visuals, and she was able to answer all questions the kids asked. She even had a bag of props that the kids got to use to create a mock-up of how the dam works. This part felt very targeted for kids, and I don’t know if it would be part of a tour leaning more the the adult end of the age spectrum.
We then followed Meg outside and stood by the fish ladder as she share more information about the ladder and answered even more questions from the kids. The tour continues to the powerhouse. The Ranger put on a microphone headset and continued providing information. There are also display items available to look at, mostly related to the history of the plant. The power generators happened to be turned off while we were in there, but it would have been interesting to see them in action.
As we were leaving, we happened to catch a free nature show. The Ranger had pointed out an osprey nest that had been built on one of the towers, and we got to see the osprey defending her nest from an interested bald eagle. “It’s like the Avengers!,” one of the girls shouted. Not quite, but it was still pretty cool.
Free tours of the dam are available 3 times per day. Space is limited, so you may wish to plan ahead if you have your heart set on participating in one. There is also a Junior Ranger program if that is something your kids would be interested in. They complete a variety of activities determined by their age that we were told take about 30 minutes. Once complete, they get “sworn in” as official junior rangers. We didn’t quite have time for it during our visit, but it sounded like a fun opportunity.
The hatchery is a few minutes away and is a self tour. You get to see the hatchery outdoor tanks full of different kinds of fish at different growth stages. The highlight was definitely feeding the trout. For $.25 you can purchase a handful of fish food and toss it to the excited fish. It seems that they remain excited no matter how much food gets sent their way, and the girls were excited to see the fish jostle each other for food- sometimes coming partially out of the water. Just past the feeding pond is the sturgeon pond, where you can see fish up to 13 feet long. If you go down the stairs towards what looks like a little white house, you can look through a window and see into the water for a view of numerous fish. There is also a gift shop with the all important espresso bar.
Overall, the girls seemed to enjoy the experiences and the general consensus was that they preferred the hatchery.
What it is: a day trip from the Portland area, free, educational, a good spot for homeschool field trips, a good spot to break up a longer drive, a good way to bring engineering to life in a fun and practical way
What it’s not: a place we would make a special trip for
Do we recommend it? Kind of. It’s a great spot to break up a longer drive, and we did enjoy the hatchery in particular. While it may be a bigger hit with kids who are really into engineering or learning about fish, I don’t know that we would make the trip with this as our sole destination.