Unlock the Fox: Phase II

Today, full navigation of the Fox River is close to reality. A river that was abandoned to pollution in the 1970s is now clean and promises a vibrant future. According to an independent economic impact study, the Fox River Lock System could generate as much as $290 million in total economic output over a ten year period, generate as many as 6,300 additional jobs, and $99 million in additional business investment over the same time period.

We are at a turning point to unlock the potential of this waterway.

Thanks to the help of visionary donors and state and community leaders, Phase I of Unlock the Fox is a success. We have restored the lock system on the Fox River at an investment of $14.5 million. As a result, the lock system is living history, is on the National Register of Historic Places, and 25 miles of the river are open to navigation through the locks. The lock system on the Fox River is the only fully restored; hand-operated lock system in the nation and it is a treasure for the State of Wisconsin.

Community support is needed to make Phase II of our initiative a reality. The next chapter of unlocking the potential of the Fox River Lock system has three components:

The Fox Locks Visitor Center

We are launching a funding drive to construct a Visitor Center to the Fox Locks System. This hands-on, interactive facility will preserve the historic importance of the lock system and have a future impact on tourism and recreation opened by the locks. The Visitor Center will provide an engaging, layered, and multifaceted learning experience for children and adults that commemorates this journey into present time. Throughout the exhibit, immersive experiences, re-creations of the locks, boats, tools, and other relevant items will provide opportunities for visitors to imagine themselves in another time and place. For more information on the Visitor Center, please visit this link. 

Opening the Menasha Lock

FRNSA has been leading the charge to find solutions to opening the Menasha lock by finding proposals using the best available, new technology. We recently met with fish researchers, the DNR, an independent fisheries management firm, and representatives from the Fox River Navigational System Authority board of directors to share the most recent scientific research on invasive species barriers and solutions that have worked for other communities in the Great Lakes region.

We are working with Smith-Root, one of the nation’s leaders in aquatic ecosystem management, to design a plan using electric barriers at the Menasha lock. This concept involves building a concrete, U-shaped channel downstream from the Menasha lock with electrodes imbedded in the channel. The current would pulsate to stun fish entering the channel, causing them to turn around and not enter the lock. The barrier uses apulsed field of direct current (DC) in the water that is not dangerous to humans on shore or in their boats. The system also uses changes in water velocity to flush the lock channel to clear out any invasive species.

Similar systems are in operation at multiple locations nationwide and have limited the spread of invasive species.

To install this system and re-open the Menasha lock, we have already invested about $65,000 for studies, conceptual designs, and research to determine and develop the electric technology needed. Estimated costs for this project are $2.3 million and community support will be needed to bring this important lock back in service.

Removing barriers at Rapide Croche

The lock at Rapide Croche, located just southwest of Wrightstown, was sealed to be a barrier to prevent aquatic invasive species from traveling from Lake Michigan through the lock system to Lake Winnebago. The lock has been sealed since 1985.

Our goal is to maintain an effective barrier for all aquatic invasive species, yet allows navigation of the lower Fox River through the lock system.

Over the years, FRNSA has reviewed proposals for a boatlift, cleaning, and transfer station that would lift boats over the barrier. The proposed boatlift and transfer station is a very expensive solution to opening full navigation of the Fox River. We are seeking other, more effective ways of both opening navigation and preventing invasive species from getting into the system. An electric barrier is also under consideration for this lock.

In order to open this lock and make the Fox River fully navigable for the first time since the 1950s, we need environmental studies, a monitoring program for invasive speciees, and an updated engineering design to complete the project.

During all our planning, we have supported keeping accessibility to the lock system affordable for all. User fees are minimal, just $10 a day purchases a day pass through all the locks. However, this fee structure does not begin to cover funding initiatives that would enhance and expand the locks for all citizens.

We are passionate stewards of the living history of the lock system, the environmental beauty of the waterway, and the future potential for the locks to impact our economy and tourism. Please help preserve the heritage of the nation’s most unique transportation systems—a piece of living history right here in Northeast Wisconsin.

Please consider making an investment into the sustainability of the Fox River lock system today.

Donate on Line

Visit this page on the Community Foundation for the Fox River Valley and donate on line. Click the box next to “Designation” and click on “Unlock the Fox.” Then, fill out the information on the rest of the page.

Donate to the FRNSA

Or, donate directly to FRNSA by downloading this form and mail into the FRNSA. Click here to download the donation form.