Help is on the way for river-goers frustrated by access problems at the Wilson boat ramp this summer.
Contractors will begin extracting gravel at the Wilson boat ramp at 8 a.m. Tuesday. Heavy equipment and vehicles are likely to be working on and around the ramp throughout the day, according to Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation.
Removing rocks from where vehicles load boats into the water will allow river users to more easily put in boats and access the main channel, Parks and Rec Director Steve Ashworth said.
“You can pull your boat as opposed to dragging it over rocks,” Ashworth said.
During the extraction, access to the ramp will be limited, and Parks and Rec staff will help direct traffic flow.
Following two years of high water on the Snake River, the Wilson boat ramp has faced escalating problems with access and safety this season. Naturally occurring changes in the dynamic river have caused many users to launch farther upstream. For frequent users, like commercial companies that utilize the ramp, that has meant dragging boats and passengers having to climb over sharp boulders to board.
“I wouldn’t call it safe or reliable, what’s going on here,” Snake River Fund Director Jared Baecker said. “Nowhere else in the region do you see boat ramps that are like this.”
“The only way you can get into a boat is to climb down over riprap, which is sharp, blasted granite the dikes are made of,” outfitter AJ DeRosa said. “It is an arduous, time-consuming and difficult procedure.”
However, intervening in or near the river requires many permits and stakeholders to be on board. To undertake the gravel extraction work, the county had to secure Federal Emergency Management Agency floodplain permits and permission from R Park, which owns land at the ramp, Ashworth said.
“It’s not as simple as folks may think,” he said.
And the county had previously set a policy that it won’t intervene in the water.
“Our responsibility and what we do at Wilson is we provide a safe facility, we provide clean restrooms, we provide opportunities to get into the river,” Ashworth said. “We have not been given the general authority to routinely and regularly go into the river and manipulate and alter flow patterns, channels, those type of things.”
Still, problems with access have meant the county has performed some maintenance on the ramp this season, such as the gravel extraction, removing woody debris and softening the toe of the ramp.
The county has budgeted (and spent) $6,000 for improvements at the Wilson ramp. The gravel work will bring the county $4,000 over budget.
“It is a change in level of service for that particular item,” Ashworth said. “We will have to forgo some services in some other areas.”
County commissioners are planning a workshop at 3:30 p.m. Aug. 27 to discuss the level of service and set expectations for the county’s river management protocols.