Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Feb. 7, 2023

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Users push Port of Ridgefield to expand, add boat ramps, make other improvements

Port officials working on plan for waterfront development

By , Columbian staff writer
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Some boaters and anglers using the Ridgefield boat launch on Mill Street, left, want to see the launch either expanded or a new launch built.
Some boaters and anglers using the Ridgefield boat launch on Mill Street, left, want to see the launch either expanded or a new launch built. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

RIDGEFIELD — When the Port of Ridgefield began looking at options for developing its 40-acre waterfront property last year, expanding or improving its two boat launches wasn’t among them. The popular launches — a two-lane facility for boats, and a separate concrete put-in area for kayaks — provide access to Lake River, which feeds into the Columbia River to the north and Vancouver Lake to the south.

But boaters and anglers, like Ridgefield resident Rick Grenz, say the facilities are far beyond overdue for a remodel or replacement.

“This boat launch … has been the same dimensions and everything since 1966 when I first started using it. Consider the amount of use it’s had since 1966 compared to today,” Grenz said. “This ramp needs to be extended another 30 or 40 feet.”

Grenz said it’s not just anglers using the boat launch but a “multitude of users” that includes boaters, personal watercraft riders, kayakers, canoeists and others.

“The problem is when people are out here circling, coming into this area to put their boats on the trailers, it’s tight between the public dock and the launch,” Grenz said.

Grenz has been reaching out to the port, city officials, local residents and his fellow anglers in hopes of drumming up support for a new boat launch. While he thinks the port commissioners and Executive Director Randy Mueller haven’t been interested in improving the launch, he’s hoping enough public pressure will change that.

Grenz wants to see the existing boat launch made into a kayak launch, and a new launch for boats built farther to the north. He thinks his idea could help resolve some of the conflicts that arise during the busy summer months between commercial gillnetters and other users.

“(One) lane can be used exclusively for kayaks and the other side could be used for jet skis and commercial gillnet vessels to launch,” Grenz said.

Grenz isn’t the only one hoping for improvements to be made. Jasmine Zimmer-Stucky from Lower Columbia Estuary Partnership said the partnership has been working with the city and the port on what the future plans could include.

Zimmer-Stucky said Ridgefield is a popular launching spot for those traveling on the Lower Columbia River Water Trail. The 146-mile-long trail stretches from Bonneville Dam to the Pacific Ocean.

“This is a great spot for nonmotorized boats,” Zimmer-Stucky said of the Division Street kayak launch.

“The water trail page on our website is one of the most widely used pages, by a landslide. So I know there’s a lot of interest in people getting out and using the trail and these sites,” she said.

However, she said the Ridgefield kayak launch lacks a restroom, picnic tables and an established parking area. Those would enhance the experience kayakers and canoeists could have when visiting Ridgefield, she said.

“There’s definitely some disparities between the two (launches),” Zimmer-Stucky said.

‘Still in the mix’

Between May and July last year, the port surveyed local residents asking them what should be done with the waterfront property. Mueller said the port received 1,500 responses and the No. 1 answer was “public access to the river for boaters, kayakers and swimmers.”

While he said the port hasn’t ruled it out, Mueller said proving public access doesn’t necessarily translate to a new or bigger boat launch.

“Lots of people gave us lots of feedback, all sorts of users and user groups. For the next few months we will be working with consultants on the business plan, planning out what different pieces could be at the waterfront. Everything is still in the mix,” he said.

Mueller said one idea being considered is creating a multiuse park. He said the area where Grenz wants a new launch built is the same location for the park, and would leave the port having to choose one or the other, but not both.

“Those folks who really like the waterfront park may not like it being a parking lot for boat trailers,” Mueller said. “Some folks want the whole thing to be a park, and that’s probably not going to happen either.”

Mueller said the port will spend the next few months figuring out, from a physical or practical point, what uses will fit with other uses and where to put them. He said planners will also be looking at the economic feasibility of development.

Mueller said although the port commissioners haven’t expressed an interest in expanding the launch, they are committed to preserving it.

For much of the year, the current boat launch and adjacent parking area sit empty. During the summer months, though, the parking lot fills quickly, forcing boaters to park illegally, park in town and walk back, or head to bigger launches in Woodland or Kalama.

The port is hopeful changes that went into effect on Jan. 1 will address at least some of that congestion. The port is now requiring annual parking permit holders to be residents of the city. Those living outside city limits will have to purchase a $12 daily parking pass to park a vehicle and boat trailer at the launch.

Other changes include increasing enforcement of port policies with fines of up to $150 and a permanent ban from the boat launch for multiple violations. The port also eliminated fees for nonmotorized watercraft using the Division Street kayak launch.

Mueller said there are no changes currently planned for the kayak launch.

“We made the choice years ago to put as much separation between the two uses to minimize the potential conflicts; boat wakes can make boarding and exiting a kayak extra difficult. The kayak launch is always open and usable,” he said.

Site constraints

Building a new launch or expanding the existing boat launch could be difficult given the number of entities that would need to approve and collaborate on any changes.

At the boat launch, according to Mueller, McCuddy’s Marina owns the land along the river south of Mill Street and the port owns the land along the river north of Mill Street. The port leases the in-water area from the Department of Natural Resources. The city of Ridgefield owns the right of way for Mill Street.

At the kayak launch two blocks to the north, the port owns the land on both sides of Division Street and leases the in-water area from DNR. The city owns the right of way for Division Street.

“There are no bathroom facilities or parking facilities at this time (at the kayak launch), but that has been identified as a desired amenity for the future waterfront park,” Mueller said.

For now boaters, anglers, kayakers and others will just have to make do with the launches they have.

For more information about the waterfront development project, go to https://portridgefield.org/opportunity/land-and-buildings/waterfront.