Anglers and recreational boaters will soon have easier access to West Virginia’s lower Elk River.
Five boat ramps are being built or improved along the 20-mile stretch of the Elk between Clendenin and Charleston.
The $2.1 improvement project got underway in July, and Division of Natural Resources officials expect it to be “substantially complete” by next summer. When the work is complete, boaters will have their choice of two ramps in the Clendenin area, one near the mouth of Blue Creek, one at Big Chimney, and another at Coonskin Park just outside Charleston.
“It’s a standard operating procedure for [the DNR] to try to provide boating access every four to six miles on our major recreational rivers,” said Zack Brown, the DNR’s federal aid coordinator.
“This particular project has been five to seven years in the planning stages, and we’re finally putting that plan into motion.”
Each of the planned facilities will provide 10 to 15 spaces where boaters can park their vehicles. All of the ramps will allow carry-down access for small boats such as kayaks and johnboats, and three of them will accommodate trailered boats as well.
Brown said the facility farthest upstream, designated “Clendenin North,” will be located near a gravel bar that has already become a popular launch site for canoeists and kayakers.
“We’ll be upgrading the lighting and parking at that site,” he added. “There will be room for about 15 vehicles, and the parking area will be moved up out of the river’s flood plain.”
The Clendenin South ramp is being built just of U.S. 119 on land formerly owned by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
“That one will also have about 15 parking spaces,” Brown said. “Boats will launch into a back channel of the river.”
At Blue Creek, construction crews will replace an existing ramp that, up to now, has been used mainly for kayaks and canoes.
“When we’re done with the new Blue Creek ramp, people should be able to launch trailered boats there pretty easily,” Brown said. “It should be able to handle bass boats pretty easily, but it probably won’t be big enough for pontoon boats.”
Crews had to suspend work at the Blue Creek site when they ran across a Civil War-era grave as they were clearing brush. Brown said construction will resume after officials from the Department of Arts, Culture and History decide how best to preserve the gravesite.
The planned launch site at Big Chimney will provide access to a stretch of the Elk that, up to now, has had none.
Brown said a local couple, Charlie and Virginia Slack, donated the property for the ramp to the DNR.
“Their donation will be a boon to water access on the lower Elk,” he added.
The presence of three endangered species — the diamond darter (fish) and a couple of rare mussels — forced DNR officials to design the boat ramp to enter the water at a shallower angle than they otherwise would have, but Brown said there was no other way to do make the project happen.
The final piece of the project will take place at Coonskin Park, where crews will renovate an existing boat slide.
“The current slide there has sediment issues, so we’re attempting to replace the slide with a concrete carry-down pathway that people can use to get their boats from the parking lot to the water,” Brown said.
When the new Coonskin facility is complete, Brown said the DNR would probably close down the nearby Mink Shoals ramp, a steep steel-rail slide that has proven difficult for boaters to use.
DNR officials expect the new and renovated ramps to be popular with anglers.
“I think, when all of these ramps are complete, they will be a wonderful addition for fishing access on the lower Elk,” Brown said. “You can have the best fishery in the world, but if you don’t have access to it, you don’t really have a fishery.”