After a nearly seven-year-long planning and construction process, a new concrete boat ramp at the southern end of Mitkof Island near Petersburg will be finished by the end of August. The project was funded by the National Highway Administration, and construction on the ramp began late last year.
Larry Dunham walks along the edge of the water near Blaquiere Point, pointing to the large rocks, mud and boulders along the coast.
“This used to be just a user-developed ramp here that basically went down over bed rock and over a large series of large boulders to get down to the water,” he says.
That bedrock ramp that Dunham’s talking about was constantly used by Petersburg residents and businesses. Blaquiere Point is near the mouth of the Stikine River. So when residents want to fish, explore the river, or just take their family out for a day trip, they headed here, boat in tow. But Dunham says that even though the ramp was used a lot, that doesn’t mean that it was necessarily safe.
“And obviously it was easier to get down here at high tide than where it is right now at low tide,” Dunham says. “So a lot of times at low tide, people would get down here and actually get into the mud into the river and couldn’t get it back out and actually get stuck in the river.”
That meant broken axles. Broken boats. And in the worst winter conditions, with slippery boulders and icy surfaces, it even led to some vehicles ending up underwater. Dunham is an engineering staff officer for the Forest Service, so six years ago, he decided it had gone too far, and he needed to do something. So he started planning a proposal for a new, safer boat ramp.
But the planning process for the ramp took a long time. The Forest Service finished up work on the proposal three years later, in 2010, and submitted it for review. It was approved in 2011. And construction began in late 2012. But even that was difficult, as the crew had to build during the winter to avoid disturbing an eagle that normally nested nearby.
“We put the contract out late in 2012,” Dunham says. “We had some timing windows so we had to do a lot of work here in the middle of the winter. Luckily we had a good winter, so they were able to get most of the blasting done until the eagle returned to the area.”
Besides those few roadblocks, though, the rest of the process went relatively smoothly. The project was funded completely by the Federal Highway Administration. And while the Petersburg team put in a request for about $620,000 for the ramp’s construction, the total cost as of now is far below that, at only about $460,000.
The Blaquiere project itself consists of a new boat ramp, parking lot, improvements to the nearby road, and the addition of an outhouse and picnic tables to the surrounding area. And while there was only a tiny 100 by 150 foot loading space out here before, residents will now have an area of about an acre and a half to park and launch their boats. That will allow far more residents to use the ramp and explore the waters south of Mitkof Island.
“And one of the main opportunities I see here is that this gives the people in Petersburg a much improved access to the Stikine River, which is an incredibly beautiful wild and scenic place,” Dunham says. “And it’s a wilderness area, so it’s always gonna remain that way.”
The construction on the project isn’t entirely finished yet. The boat ramp’s done, but the parking lot is still full of rocks and needs to be paved. In addition, the contractor also needs to add picnic tables and the outhouse. But even with those additions still to come, Dunham expects the project to be completely finished by the end of August. And he says that even though everything’s not fully done just yet, he’s already seen the impact of the new boat ramp on residents.
“If you come out here, like I was out here on the Fourth of July this year,” Dunham says. “And there were probably thirty trucks with trailers out here, people that were up the river or out on the water. It will definitely get heavily utilized. And it isn’t even completely open yet. So you can see that with improved parking, it’s only gonna go up.”
Looking towards the future, the forest service has also made sure to add certain features so the ramp isn’t destroyed by the fast-moving waters nearby. To do that, the agency bordered the boat launch with large, heavy rocks on each side. And the ramp itself is also made of husky, concrete planks that will hopefully provide resistance against the ocean and the always-changing weather.