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Wednesday, April 17, 2013
Ask Virginians what they need most to better enjoy the outdoors, and always near the top of the list is a request for more boating access--everything from major, big-water ramps with multi-launching pads and plenty of parking to simple spots where you can pull a canoe or kayak over the bank to the water.
A couple of programs are about to provide additional water access across the state, from the Powell River in Lee County to the expansive Chesapeake Bay.
Virginia has a bountiful supply of water resources, but in some cases it might as well be locked away in a vault, because of the lack of access and, in too many cases, hostile landowners.
An example, there is no public access for nearly 60 miles along the south side of the tidal James River. Float fishing is limited on many streams in the western part of the state because landowners claim they not only own the stream bank, but the streambed as well, and even the fish.
A bill in the 2012 Virginia General Assembly that would have given canoeists and kayakers the right to float during daylight hours on what are considered non-navigable waterways failed. So did a bill that would have directed an inventory of non-tidal water that could be used for public recreation.
A well-known court case involves anglers launching their craft in the Jackson River at a public access area and floating downstream only to be confronted by a landowner who claimed he owned the fishing rights.
The DGIF grant program involves cost sharing with local governments. Providing the bulk of funds is DGIF, but each locality helps choose the access site, provides the design, oversees construction and agrees to maintain the ramp for a period of 20 years or more.
A key role of the localities is to find potential access points. That is no little task considering waterfront property is scarce and expensive. DGIF often has had a challenging time locating potential sites, so by involving the public you add "the eyes and ears of over 100 local governments," said Bob Duncan, executive director of the DGIF.
The Town of Pearisburg and Giles County are heavily involved in the grant program, having agreed to partner for two ramps on the New River, a stream popular with paddlers and anglers after bass, walleye and muskie.
One sight is called Whitt Riverbend and the other Bluff City. They are about 8 river miles apart, which means they offer the potential of a day trip from one to the other. DGIF is contributing approximately $80,000 to each project. The quality of the fishing in the New underscored the need for the ramps, said Steve Kesler, boating access specialist for the DGIF.
Here are the other grant projects:
Some of the DGIF grant projects will overlap with the National Park Service's plans for the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries, but that isn't a bad thing. In addition to the state of Virginia, the park service plan includes portions of Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It will increase the places that people can get on the water by more than 20 percent.
These new park service sites were suggested by citizens and stakeholders during a series of public meetings, including one in Richmond. More than half the sites are on public land.
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