Boat traffic through the lock system on the lower Fox River is up over past years, an indication that regional residents are choosing recreational activities closer to home during this time of pandemic. In June of 2020, a total of 1,250 motorized and non-motorized crafts passed through the lock system carrying 5,055 passengers. This is more than twice the number of boats through the locks than at the same time in 2019.
“We’ve had steady growth in lock usage in recent years, but this level of traffic shows us that regional residents are becoming more familiar with the lock system and spending more time on the water,” said Jeremy Cords, CEO of the Fox River Navigational Authority (FRNSA). The Authority manages the 17 locks on the lower Fox River.
Usage statistics show the following trends:
For this past 4th of July weekend, 156 boaters passed through the locks compared to 94 boaters in 2019.
Of the 39-mile lock system about 25 miles are open for navigation. Boaters can travel from the bay of Green Bay to the Rapide Croche lock just south of Wrightstown. The river is also navigable from the Rapide Croche lock south through Little Lake Butte des Morts to the closed Menasha lock. Both the Menasha lock and the Rapide Croche lock are closed to prevent the spread of invasive species.
“As we open more stretches of the river to navigation, we expect these trends will continue to grow for both boaters and pedestrians interested in the lock system,” Cords said. Right now, work is underway to restore the Veterans Memorial Bridge in Kaukauna to working order, which will open the five locks in Kaukauna to boater traffic. Work is expected to be complete in 2021.
The Menasha lock will remain closed to prevent the spread of the invasive round goby. An electric barrier has been proposed for this lock to prevent the fish from entering the Lake Winnebago watershed and research is currently underway to assess the effects of a barrier on all the life stages of the fish.
The lock system on the Fox River is one of the only fully restored, hand-operated lock systems in the nation. From 2005-2015 the Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) restored 16 of the 17 locks on the system at an investment of $14.5 million.
A 2017 economic impact study conducted by the University of Wisconsin—Oshkosh indicated the lock system could generate as much as $290 million in total economic output over a ten year period and generate as many as 6,300 additional jobs. The study further indicates a fully operational lock system could generate $99 million in additional business investment over the same time period. The Fox Locks operate through Labor Day 2020.