A Family of Quality Publications Celebrating the Place We Call Home
By Alison Fiebig
Ten minutes or less. That’s about how long it takes to get to the Fox River from just about anywhere in the Fox Cities.
Ten is also the number of months that the Fox River Navigational Authority System has to secure $350,000 in community contributions for the final portion of the Fox Locks Restoration Project.
The fate of the Fox Locks was first questioned in the early 60s, shortly after the locks on the Lower Fox were abandoned by the Army Corps of Engineers. But in 1984, the Corps ceased operations of the navigation system and leased it to the state of Wisconsin. However, the Corps proceeded with a plan to abandon the system.
Six years ago, the Corps transferred ownership of the 17 locks that make up the Lower Fox River, the Corps of Engineers Office and property in Kaukauna and the harbors of Stockbridge and Brothertown on Lake Winnebago to the state of Wisconsin. The Fox River Navigational Authority System was formed and a cost-sharing agreement between the federal, state and local governments for the locks restoration and long-term operation was created.
“We could have turned our backs many years ago and said heck with it,” says Ron Van De Hey, current chairman of the board. “There have been times when I’ve looked at it and asked myself, ‘Are we doing the right thing?’ And the answer is, absolutely.”
The goal of the project has always been to restore and operate the lock system with a significant emphasis on increasing water-based recreational opportunities. The Authority owns about 135 acres of shore land with over five miles of water frontage. Recreational developments, such as the Menasha Trestle Trail (Friendship) Bridge and kayak launch portages in Appleton, have allowed people of the community to incorporate the river into everyday activities. A number of large commercial and recreational projects are planned or currently being developed.
A total of $350,000 must be raised to secure the matching funds by August 2011.
The federal government pledged an initial payment of $11.8 million with an additional $5.6 million to match $2.8 million in state funds and $2.8 million in local fundraising.
“One of the conditions we have on the project is that not only are we looking to restore the locks, but to maintain them through 2034,” says Harlan Kiesow, chief executive officer of the Authority. “We have a formula that is set up to determine what money we can spend when.”
Eight of the locks have been completed to date, leaving five locks to be completed throughout Kaukauna. The final $350,000 will go towards completing the project, specifically the Kaukauna portion (Locks 1, 2, 3 and 4; Lock 5 will be completed in 2011).
“We’re like the fish in our river! We’re constantly swimming in our (fundraising) drive but that’s the way it is. But with this timeline, there’s an urgency,” says Van De Hey.
And with the financial support of the Fox Cities community, the Fox Locks system will provide residents several ways to enjoy the place we call home for generations to come.
“We have brought something back to a functioning level, something our forefathers envisioned,” says Van De Hey. “So much of our life is in short term things. This river isn’t short term.”
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