Freshwater Boating Access in Alabama

Dan Thompson
(former) Capital Development Coordinator
Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Divsion

From the Mobile Bay to the Tennessee River, approximately 300 public boat ramps serve the 256,000 (25 foot and under) boats registered in Alabama.  Additionally, an unknown number of out-of-state boats visit Alabama annually, primarily to fish for bass and crappie.  Public boat ramps are generally owned and operated by federal, state, county and city governmental agencies.  The Fisheries Section of the Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division operates approximately 110 public boat ramps statewide.

The Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (AWFF) Boating Access Program began in 1958, and was funded by Dingell-Johnson (D-J) federal funds derived from an excise tax on fishing tackle.  These funds were used to construct over 120 facilities utilizing the old method of concrete planks and shackles.  Due to a scarcity of funds in the 1970s, no additional ramps were built from 1975 until 1985.

This time period also marked the transition from the typical ten-horsepower outboards and 14-foot Jon boats to powerful bass boats and pleasure craft.  With the advent of heavier boats and more powerful motors with power tilt, boaters used the thrust from their boats to drive onto their trailers.  The powerful thrust of motors caused the mud and rocks to wash away from around the concrete planks and shackles of the boat ramps, making the old ramps unusable.

Jon boat used at Gainesville Reservoir.

Boaters are buying larger and more powerful boats creating different needs in giving them access to public water.

In 1985, the passage of the Wallop-Breaux (W-B) Amendment to the D-J Act (now known as the Sport Fish Restoration Fund [SFR]), provided additional funds for boating access.  Surveys demonstrated that millions of dollars of federally taxed gasoline was spent for outboard motorboats.  Therefore, these funds were directed to support recreational boating.  Congress initially mandated that 10% of SFR funds must be allocated to boating access and later amended the allocation to 15% of all SFR funds.

Kowaliga boat access area on Lake Martin between Montgomery, Alabama, and Atlanta, Georgia.The new source of funding allowed the Alabama Wildlife and Freshwater Fisheries Division (AWFF) to replace the damaged "plank" boat ramps, utilizing a new construction method known as the "push-in-slab."  This technique has a dual advantage of minimizing future maintenance and reducing damage to boat trailers.  A reinforced concrete slab is poured on site, and allowed to cure prior to being pushed into position on a bed of riprap.  Once the underwater portion is in position, a cast-in-place ramp is poured to connect the push-in slab to the parking area.  Interconnecting rebar effectively locks the push-in slab in place.  Since 1985, AWFF has renovated almost all of its original boat ramps.

Approximately two or three new boating access facilities are constructed each year.  New facilities are built on a priority basis where property is deeded or leased to the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.  Additionally, many new facilities have been constructed to help offset those lost over the years due to nonrenewable lease agreements.

Courtesy docks are being installed at numerous sites each year to assist boaters in launching and retrieval of their vessels.  In reservoirs with relatively stable water levels, fixed wooden docks can be more economically constructed than floating docks.  In riverine situations with occasional high waters and heavy debris loads, docks are difficult to engineer and very expensive to build; so unfortunately, these areas have been given a lower priority.   Concrete wharfs are being considered as alternatives to floating docks at riverine sites.

Bees Wax Landing on Lay Lake near Birmingham, AlabamaEach year, AWFF's boating access maintenance crew spends many man-hours on routine maintenance activities such as dock repair, mowing and parking lot restriping.  A major maintenance problem at access areas is the dumping of litter, garbage and trash at AWFF boat ramps.  This is an illegal activity and should be reported to Game Watch at 1-800-272-4263.