Access to the water is one hurdle for boaters and anglers in Alabama’s coastal counties, where high land prices and high demand can leave those who want to launch a boat waiting in line.
However, improvements to that access are on the horizon, and some projects have already been completed.
The Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (ADCNR) is teaming with Governor Kay Ivey and local municipalities to upgrade ramps and docks as well as acquire waterfront property and build new facilities when land becomes available. Increased public access to our waterways has been one of the top priorities for ADCNR Commissioner Chris Blankenship.
“We are blessed with great fishing and beautiful places on the water for outdoor recreation in Coastal Alabama,” Commissioner Blankenship said. “Working with Governor Ivey, ADCNR has been able to allocate GOMESA and Deepwater Horizon funds to acquire new properties, build or improve boating access facilities and provide for fishing and recreation opportunities from piers and other waterfront areas all over Mobile and Baldwin Counties”
One project already completed is the Ted Middleton Jr. Boat Ramp located on Battleship Parkway (Causeway) directly across from the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park. The ADCNR’s State Lands Division replaced the boat ramp and made improvements to the parking area, including ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) parking and room for about 20 boat trailers. The existing docks, which are built with flow-through decking to better withstand tropical weather events, were also expanded to accommodate additional vessels. This project was funded with GOMESA (Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act Program) dollars.
Also, on the upper end of Mobile Bay, Scott Bannon, Director of ADCNR’s Marine Resources Division (MRD), said Sportfish Restoration funds are being provided to the City of Daphne for parking improvements and a kayak launch at D’Olive Boat Ramp. He said the Baywatch Ramp at the Weeks Bay Reserve south of Fairhope will use GOMESA funds to improve and expand parking.
“Viewpoint Ramp (Pelican Point) at the mouth of Weeks Bay will have the damaged ramp repaired in August, and we are developing a plan to renovate the two existing ramps, provide ADA parking and fishing access and other parking improvements,” Bannon said. “The Pines Boat Ramp on Fort Morgan Road was recently repaired and is open. The Fort Morgan Boat Ramp is undergoing parking renovations, including grading, placement of aggregate, improving drainage and designating parking areas.”
Bannon said The Launch at ICW (Intracoastal Waterway), just across the canal from The Wharf, is providing a great deal of access to the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area with about 200 trailer parking spots and a six-lane boat ramp. The $17-million project was a joint effort with GOMESA funds from the State of Alabama and Baldwin County.
“Having 200 parking spots is great,” he said. “The parking lot was almost completely full over the Independence Day weekend, and that reduced the number of boats being towed through the cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores on a busy holiday weekend and ensured boaters had a place to park their vehicles. Everyone should appreciate the vision the Baldwin County Commission had to undertake this effort.”
On the west side of Mobile Bay, the Delta Port Marina at Coden was renovated to include enhancing the riprap (rock material) along the shoreline to improve erosion control, increasing the number of parking spaces to 40 and applying new aggregate (gravel) to all parking areas.
In Bayou La Batre, the public access boat ramp on Shell Belt Road has been extended by 20 feet into the water to allow larger boats to launch safely. The dock on the east side of the ramp has been repaired, and the west-side dock has been replaced. More parking spots have also been added. These are temporary enhancements to assist boaters until Mobile County begins construction of the City Docks.
On Dauphin Island, Little Billy Goat Hole was recently renovated by the Town of Dauphin Island utilizing Sport Fish Restoration dollars and GOMESA funds. Improvements included paved and striped trailer parking and designated single-car parking. The old wood pier decking was replaced with composite flow-through-style panels. MRD will install solar lighting for increased safety in the fall.
“We’re going to be redoing some of the seawall,” said Dauphin Island Mayor Jeff Collier. “That will be coming up this fall, but it won’t interfere with people using the boat ramp.”
Anyone who has been to Dauphin Island during the opening weekend of red snapper season or during the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo understands the premium placed on parking on the island, not to mention getting a spot in line to launch a boat.
Billy Goat Hole, which accommodates larger boats, is undergoing renovations administered by MRD using GOMESA funds. The area will be graded for water flow, and gravel will be applied to the parking areas. Work includes providing paved ADA trailer parking space and two single-vehicle ADA spaces as well as installation of an ADA-compliant elevator for access to the restrooms. Lighting will also be upgraded.
“We have already started to improve the parking,” Bannon said. “We have cut down some trees and are cleaning it up. We’re going to slope it and designate single-car parking where we put down aggregate. That will be occurring over the next couple of months.
“We will work with the Town of Dauphin Island to determine what parking plan will best meet their needs. There is a potential to add 14 trailer parking spots and create up to 40 single-vehicle parking spots.”
Mayor Collier added, “There will be a lot more organization to the parking on Bienville Boulevard when this is finished.”
Bannon said the permitting process through the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will be the most difficult challenge in renovating the Billy Goat Hole ramps.
“That’s the hard part,” Bannon said. “If we get the permitting done, we’ll start this winter. If not, it will likely be next winter. Mayor Collier and I have talked about the impacts of having the ramp under construction during the busy time of the year. Once we get started, we’re going to tear out the docks and the ramps. We’re going to redo the slopes of the ramps and install wider docks with the flow-through-type decking and taller pilings, which will keep your boat from rubbing on the dock and give you something to grab onto as you get out of your boat. We’re going to try to move it out about 30 feet to prevent people from blocking traffic when people are backing their boats in. The goal is to provide a safer, more efficient and attractive boat launch area.”
A tie-down lane designated for boaters to pull up and secure their boats before leaving the ramp area will also be installed.
More access to coastal waters will soon become a reality when the Town of Dauphin Island finishes a new two-lane ramp area with 40-50 trailer parking spaces on Aloe Bay with access to the Mississippi Sound.
“The newest ramp will be on DeSoto Avenue, which is just west of the Circle K when you first come onto the island,” Mayor Collier said. “It is under construction. That will give additional access to the water, especially for those who might want to go out into Mississippi Sound.
“Boat ramps are in short supply. A lot of people come here for that reason. Coming to the island is going to get you the quickest access, whether you’re going to the Gulf, the Bay or the Sound. I can understand why folks love coming here, so we’ve got to do all we can to make it more convenient to access the water.”
Visit www.outdooralabama.com/boating/coastal-alabama-boating-access for an interactive map of access points.
David Rainer is an award-winning writer who has covered Alabama’s great outdoors for 25 years. The former outdoors editor at the Mobile Press-Register, he writes for Outdoor Alabama, the website of the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.