Area’s smaller waterways have few public entries

Glenn Ray says he has paddled the Little Hocking River every month for the past 18 years.

It’s easy for him because his property adjoins the river.

However, when it comes to boaters – especially kayakers or canoeists – who want to travel Washington County’s smaller river and streams, not many public access points exist.

On the Little Hocking River, the issue limiting public put-in sites is the amount of private property that exists along the river. A couple of campsites upriver from the Ohio have access, Ray said, on the western branch.

Similarly, very few access points have been developed on the Little Hocking River and Wolf Creek in western Washington County as they have on Duck Creek and the Little Muskingum River.

Alternative transportation funds could be used to develop such put-in spots on the four rivers and streams, officials said.

Alternative transportation funds for eligible projects can be requested for such projects as bicycle and pedestrian facilities, historic transportation facilities and recreational trails (skateboarding, equestrian activities and aquatic or water activities).

Douglas Leeds, Ohio Water Trails Program administrator with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Division of Watercraft, said many people notify ODNR about access or amenities to be included in online maps when updated.

“The Watercraft Cooperative Boating Facility Grant is available, but we don’t have funding for that special grant because it has been dedicated to other uses,” he said.

He expected money to be available in 2014.

“It is a reimbursed program,” Leeds said. “(A government entity would) have funding already and be reimbursed for that project once complete. Typically, it is about $3 million.”

The deadline to apply is April 1 each year followed by four months of evaluation.

Washington County Commissioner David White said those funds could be used for improvements of various types but many questions would first have to be answered. Furthermore, he said no such requests for waterway access have come across his desk as a commissioner. However, as a member of Marietta City Council, the council had several discussions about fish access, but nothing was included in council plans, he said.

White said it would be crucial to know who’s doing it, who’s paying for it, the drawbacks, who owns the property as well as the involvement of a public entity.

“Privately owned land is the barrier on the Little Hocking River and Duck Creek,” said Marilyn Ortt, of Friends of the Muskingum. “The Muskingum River is pretty well covered because of the public ownership of the locks and dams. That certainly makes things easier.”

One of the industries Ohio is known for is tourism. Boaters certainly contribute to that millions generated.

More than $5.6 million is paid annually in boat registration and titling fees. Boaters paid $14.8 million in state marine fuel taxes during 2012, according to the Ohio Department of Education of Taxation.

Tourism is a $40 billion per year industry – Ohio’s third largest – and one that supports the full-time equivalent of about 443,000 Ohio jobs that generate almost $10 billion in direct earnings, according to Ohio Travel & Tourism.

Mindy and Jeff Wood, 46 and 50 respectively, of Novelty, near Cleveland, come regularly to the area and enjoy the waterways. The couple traveled this week from their home to use their Jet Skis on the Ohio River. They have been visiting Marietta for at least eight years to enjoy the town, the recreation the river offers and the restaurants.

“We like (the Ohio) better than Lake Erie, which is 20 minutes from home,” Mindy said. “It’s a lot calmer.”

They said they would use other area rivers if there were good access points.

“We have quite a few small rivers by us,” Mindy Wood said. “People fish, kayak and canoe. I would use those (spots) as long as it had easy access to launch.”

“If there are more (sites) developed, you get more people using them,” said Marietta Cycling and Rowing Club member Peter Prigge, of Marietta.

However, he pointed out that water levels are not always consistent in the small streams.

Prigge said there are times of the year when some parts of the streams cannot be used, including the upper reaches of Duck Creek and the Little Muskingum River.

“You’d keep your feet drier and your shoes cleaner if they were developed,” he said.

Prigge said many of the put-in sports are fairly primitive, but Leith Run, on the Ohio River, has an old boat site that’s virtually unusable, “but there is a second spot that could be developed quite easily, just for kayaks and canoes. I think that would add value to the campsite. For canoes and kayaks, they don’t have to be fancy.”

All it would take, in most places, would be a backhoe and a couples of yards of concrete, he said.

An example of the difficulty in establishing public put-in spots is Devols Dam on the Muskingum River. The land just north of the dam could be developed, Prigge said, but it is privately owned.

“Apparently, the owner doesn’t want to cooperate to give ODNR a 20-foot right-of-way,” he said.

Ryan Smith, owner of Marietta Adventure Company, said care has to be taken when trying to access a river or stream and that the area is a public right of way, such as a bridge.

A prime example of an undeveloped public access is just to the right side of Ohio 124 entering Little Hocking from Belpre. While it is public, people who use it have to have some know-how.

“It’s awfully steep,” Ray said. “You really need to know what you are doing to back in. I assume it could more easily traveled to make a put-in point, but I am not an engineer. It is similar to the other rivers and canoeable streams.”

The main drawback on the Hocking is it is usually caked in mud on both sides, the banks are steep and private property owners are strict if people try to get into the water through someone’s yard, he said.

Smith said the Ohio Department of Natural Resources has maps on its website that show the streams and rivers that are big enough to navigate, known hazards and fording points.

However, Smith said Wolf Creek usually is not listed because it is navigable only when there is enough water in it.

“Wolf Creek is a very beautiful but smaller creek,” Smith said. “It needs a little rain to have sufficient water.”

Ortt said she’d like to see greater access and promotion beyond the Ohio and Muskingum, to other area waterways.

“People are more aware of the value of what an asset they are than they used to be,” she said. “Getting people out in kayaks and canoes is another opportunity to expand recreational use.”