A good description can be found at:
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"You probably won't find Allentown's Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery on a list of the Lehigh Valley's top tourist attractions, yet the number of visitors the facility hosts each month easily rivals local museums, wineries, art galleries and the like.
Public sales of trout food at the nursery, just off Fish Hatchery Road in the Lehigh Parkway, topped $4,000 in April alone. Considering a bag of trout food costs just $1, and many families will purchase a single bag for three or four people, it seems reasonable to estimate at least 10,000 people visit the nursery each month during the spring and summer.
''It's an incredible facility and an awesome family gathering place,'' said Greg Weitzel, the city's parks and recreation director.
Weitzel said the Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery is the oldest, continuously operating trout nursery in the nation, and as far as he knows, Allentown is the only city in the nation with its own trout nursery. The facility is open every day from 7 a.m. to dusk.
A storied past
According to The Morning Call archives, the Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery was created as a state-owned hatchery in 1883. The state operated a hatchery there until 1903, when the operation was taken over by the Troxell family.
In 1907, the facility was purchased by local businessman and philanthropist Gen. Harry C. Trexler, who upgraded and expanded the hatchery and operated it until his death in 1933, after which the facility became part of his estate.
Between 1933 and 1949, the hatchery went through a long period of uncertainty as local businessmen, sportsmen's groups and government agencies squabbled over its future. In 1945, a court decided the facility should be purchased by the city, which paid $40,000 for the nursery the following year.
In 1949, the city entered into a cooperative lease agreement that allowed three local sportsmen's clubs -- Lehigh County Fish and Game Protective Association, Pioneer Fish and Game Protective Association and Trout Creek Fish and Game Club -- to operate the nursery on the city's behalf and stock fish raised there exclusively into waterways within the city limits.
As Weitzel noted last week, that original lease remains in place 59 years later, with volunteers from local sportsmen's groups raising roughly 25,000 brook, brown, rainbow and golden rainbow trout each year for stocking into the Little Lehigh Creek and other streams within the city park system. All fish, which are provided by the state Fish and Boat Commission, arrive at the nursery as fingerlings and raised to adulthood by the volunteer sportsmen.
Unlike trout in state hatcheries, which are stocked after one year, Weitzel noted fish reared at Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery are grown for two years before their release.
''Obviously,'' he said, ''it's a little more rewarding to have bigger fish in our streams.''
In addition to regular stockings to support recreational fishing, nursery fish also are used for Lehigh County Fish and Game's annual Lehigh Parkway trout-fishing contest. Association President Roy Lerch said 4,000 trout will be stocked into Little Lehigh Creek this week for its 57th annual contest, which will be held Saturday and Sunday. Lerch expects 600-700 children to participate in Saturday's junior contest, with another 1,300-2,000 anglers in Sunday's adult contest.
''We make enough money on the contest to run the club for the entire year,'' Lerch said. ''Some of that money comes right back here to the nursery.''
Despite its rich history and nearly six decades of successful partnership between local sportsmen and the city, Weitzel said Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery is in need of significant upgrades to ensure a future as bright as its past.
''The nursery is a treasure,'' Weitzel said, ''and we need to do more to treat it like the treasure it is.''
In addition to its $85,000 annual operating budget for the nursery -- which includes one full-time employee, electricity, heat and basic supplies -- Weitzel said Allentown officials have budgeted an extra $50,000 for nursery upgrades this year.
The city also spearheaded formation of a nursery improvement committee that includes representatives from the city, sportsmen's clubs, Fish and Boat Commission and Wildlands Conservancy.
Weitzel said the committee has identified a lengthy list of infrastructure needs at the nursery, including installation of a backup generator to deal with frequent power failures, repairing cracks in the concrete lining of the nursery's trout ponds and new netting to protect trout from herons, ospreys and other predators.
The committee also would like to see a number of new features, including security cameras to monitor the site after hours, a Web site to raise public awareness of the facility and the development of an educational curriculum that could involve local students with the nursery operation.
Later this year, Weitzel said, he hopes to hire a local architecture and engineering firm to develop a master plan for the nursery. He also said the improvement committee will seek financial support from retailers such as Cabela's and Bass Pro Shops and private grants from conservation groups such as the Fish America Foundation.
Perhaps as important as the nursery's physical needs, Weitzel said, is the need to recruit a new generation of volunteers to keep nursery operations going. Lerch said most of the work at the facility is handled by a core group of 25-30 volunteers with an average age between 55 and 60.
''We need a new infusion of kids who want to get involved,'' Weitzel said. ''I can tell you it's a lot of fun, and there's a lot to learn here. We recognize if we don't do something soon, this could all be gone.''
Anyone interested in volunteering at the Lil-Le-Hi Trout Nursery should contact the Allentown Parks and Recreation department at 610-437-7757.