Landlocked: River access, funds drying up

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 29, 2005

Lee Kipp and his friends can often be seen carrying a small fishing boat into Symmes Creek, slowly trudging through the layers and layers of mud that have accumulated on the boat ramp.

With two of the five boat ramps in Lawrence County covered with mud, others may follow Kipp's lead by carrying their own boats or traveling to the other side of the river.

"We have to go all the way to Huntington (W.Va.) or Guyandotte when the ones in Chesapeake used to be so nice," the Chesapeake resident said.

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What keeps those ramps buried in mud is money - or rather the lack of it.

The Center Street Boat Landing in Ironton and the South Point Boat Ramp are owned and maintained by the city and village. Both are in full working order with money budgeted for their care.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers owns the other three ramps. The corps leases Symmes Creek Boat Ramp in Chesapeake, Indian Guyan Boat Ramp in Union Township and Lock 27 Park in Rome Township to the county leaving the county commission responsible for the upkeep.

"Operation and maintenance of the actual area itself is the responsibility of the lease holder," said Peggy Noel, public affairs specialist with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "The corps' responsibility for dredging is to maintain a water navigation channel."

She said the money is not there to dredge beyond those channels, which does not include boat ramp access areas.

"Funds for dredging have not been as much as in previous years," Noel said. "Options for us to dredge areas not used for navigation have been limited due to funding."

Money is the county's problem as well.

"The money is just not there. The county doesn't have the funds," County Commissioner Jason Stephens said. "The money is not there to maintain from the Corps standpoint or ours."

Of the three leased ramps, Lock 27 Park in Rome Township still functions as a park and ramp, equipped with trashcans and benches but with some mud on the access ramp.

Much of the credit for this goes to volunteer Bill Dalton who has maintained and cleaned the area for the past eight years with the help of anyone he could enlist.

It all began one day when Dalton went down to the park and did not like what he saw.

Dalton said he then went to the trustees at the time to get help.

"It's there and it needs to be done," he said. "It's a public park."

He has gotten a little help during the years from fellow residents such as Carl Torri. Dalton said the township has even helped with scraping mud from the ramp, but Dalton said he understands the trustees have other things to worry about.

"It's not that we don't want to work on it, we just don't have the time or manpower," trustee Dean Cooper said. "No one is willing to do anything and Dalton and the other guy (Torri) are doing a great job but they need some help."

The ramps at Symmes Creek and Indian Guyan have not been quite as lucky. Neither of these ramps are in good enough condition to back a boat trailer down.

Daniel Kinder, co-owner of Peparonis at the State Route 7 entrance of the Symmes Creek Boat Ramp, said he would often use the ramps there and at Indian Guyan in the past but has not been able to for years.

"I used to until they quit taking care of them. Now you can't even get a boat in them," he said. "We tried to put a boat in and you can't."

Layers of mud cover both ramps deep into the creek and river. The mud has been there so long vegetation is growing through it.

"It's really a nice facility," Kipp said. "It's got a lot of parking and it's right next to the river."

Kipp said it has been years that he can remember since the ramp was cleared.

"I've fished here and lived here all my life and it's honesty been four or five years," Kipp said. "It's about time something gets done."

And something is now being done about the condition of the Symmes Creek Boat Ramp.

Through a collaborative effort between the Symmes Creek Restoration Committee, the county, Union Township, the U.S. Forest Service and the Lawrence-Scioto Solid Waste Authority, the boat ramp and park area is being whipped back into shape.

Grayson Thornton, chairman of the Symmes Creek Restoration Committee, said they have gotten the park area cleaned up, but the committee is still working on getting the ramp cleared.

The group is in a rush to get action going on the ramp in preparation for its annual Canoe Caper, which will be Aug. 13.

Thornton said they have already got someone lined up who will clean a third of the ramp but said it will take more than that to really get it working. He said it would take 10 truckloads of dirt to get the rest of the ramp cleared.

"Until we get someone, preferably the Corps of Engineers, to dredge it out, big boats can't launch," Thornton said.

Light is shining at the end of the tunnel for that ramp.

"There is movement even though it is slow, there is movement," Thornton said.

Unfortunately that movement only seems to apply to Symmes Creek.

The parking lot of Indian Guyan Boat Ramp is littered with piles of paper bags and empty bottle. The ramp itself looks like an extension of the bank on both sides of it with empty water and soda pop bottles decorating the feet of hardened mud. Charred circles have been left where people have built fires amongst the growing plants and river debris.

The area has been left to fight Mother Nature alone.

Indian Guyan's lease was picked up again by the county for possible use with the RiverWalk Project in Proctorville.

"We took Indian Guyan due to its proximity to the River Walk Project," Stephens said. "We would rather that property be given to us to use in the RiverWalk Project."

He said the county would like to use that property to match with possible grants for the project.

Everyone who is working to better the boat ramps are already swamped with what they have and cannot take on any more projects.

"Our interest is seeing Symmes Creek in working order," Thornton said. "We'd love to see the others working but our concern is Symmes Creek."

Stephens said, as much as he would like to see the boat ramps in working order, maintaining them is not a high priority right now. With a tight budget, Stephens said providing money for the safety and well being of residents is just more important.

For now Kipp and Kinder will have to keep carrying fishing boats into the water or going across the river.

"It's aggravating. All the time there's someone stopping in here asking where the boat ramp is," said Kinder.

Sadly, Kinder said he has to send them elsewhere.