Boat launch access presents problems to boaters with limited mobility
When it comes to water recreation, Hastings is in prime territory. The Mississippi and St. Croix rivers provide easy access to miles of waterways. But access to the water itself can be a little trickier, at least when considering free, public options.
Ron Lovejoy, a Hastings resident and boating enthusiast, recently wrote a letter to the editor expressing some concerns about the public boat launch in Hastings’ Jaycee Park.
“It has a very nice concert approach to the water but that’s about it,” Lovejoy wrote in his letter. “It’s also not accessible to anyone who is elderly, physically handicapped or who doesn’t want to get wet and risk their lives in the river current.”
While there are three marinas with boat launches and launch docks in Hastings (King’s Cove, Hub’s Landing and the Hastings Marina), the Jaycee Park launch is the only public boat launch on the Mississippi River.
There are a few factors that make the boat launch difficult, however. The first is accessibility.
“You can put the boat in and out, but you can’t get in it,” Lovejoy said.
The launch has no dock or beaching area, meaning boaters must get in and out of their boats on the launch itself, which usually means walking through some level of water and climbing up the side of the boat or trailer to get in.
“It’s not accessible for elderly people,” Lovejoy said.
Lovejoy isn’t the only one who’s struggled with the launch. Commenting on the Hastings Star Gazette’s Facebook page, a number of people agreed with Lovejoy’s letter.
“It’s good that someone finally spoke up about this,” wrote Kathy King. “It has always been a pain to launch there especially based on how busy it is. There is a lot of pressure to launch quickly when there is a line and unless you launch there all the time it’s confusing and I have always thought dangerous. Let’s get this fixed!”
“I don’t have a boat, but I have also witnessed this stuff as well, there has been a few times that I have helped people get their boats on trailers when I’m just down there enjoying the river scene,” wrote Rick Schluessler.
And Will Hose wrote, “... It is near impossible to use with small kids. Would not be horrible with a sand shoreline and a few docks.”
The city does maintain a seasonal boat dock a short distance downstream of the launch, however the distance makes it difficult for boaters to launch their boat and be able to clear their vehicles from the boat launch in a reasonable time.
Improving the launch is one of the goals Hastings Parks and Recreation Director Chris Jenkins said he’d like to see. He said he’d like to examine the possibility of creating a space somewhere along the Mississippi River where boaters can park their watercraft while getting in and out. A small beach would provide such access, but there is one prime obstacle to seeing a beach or a launch dock installed.
“My understanding is that there are navigation challenges,” Jenkins said.
The boat launch is owned and maintained by the City of Hastings in a cooperative agreement with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources; however, because of its location on the Mississippi River, the city must meet strict regulations set by the DNR and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
What makes the location particularly difficult is the proximity of the navigation channel. Channel maps show the navigation channel extremely close to the south bank of the river as it passes through Hastings, leaving little to no room for any in-water modifications.
The city has succeeded in getting some work done on the launch. In 2012, the city worked with the DNR to redesign the boat launch and parking area around it. River currents had washed away a portion of the launch ramp, rendering half the launch unusable for multiple boating seasons.
At the time, Hastings’ previous parks and recreation director, Barry Bernstein, noted that project engineers had considered adding a wing dam to the boat launch to relieve concerns about the river’s current; however, the final project did not include that feature.
Lovejoy suggested that the launch should be brought up to standards set by the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) Act.
“Something should be done in regards to this public boat launch so people can get in and out of the boat,” he said.
Jenkins agreed that the launch isn’t perfect.
“It is not the best for everybody,” he said.
And while ADA requirements to specify standards for boat docks, they also exempt from those standards boat launches that are not equipped with launch docks.
The United States Access Board’s website (www.access-board.gov) explains: “There are no specific provisions that address access to launch ramps without boarding piers. The Department of Justice advises that if there are no available scoping requirements (i.e., how many features must be accessible), then a reasonable number, but at least one, must be accessible. It is recommended that an accessible route serve at least one launch ramp. The portion of the accessible route located within the launch ramp is not required to comply with the slope requirements for accessible routes.”
Because the city’s boat launch doesn’t have a launch dock installed, ADA requirements don’t apply, Jenkins said.
That doesn’t mean he’s not interested in improving the public boat launch, and Jenkins said the city has discussed the launch with the DNR.
“We’re talking openly with the DNR and investigating if there’s options,” he said.
A solution to accessibility complaints isn’t likely to happen anytime soon, however. Should the city or DNR obtain the necessary funds for another upgrade, there would be a lengthy planning and approval process involved. And, he added, because the boat launch is currently functional, adding features hasn’t been high on the city’s priority list.
“The launch itself is functioning,” he said.
The city also has public water access on both Lake Isabel and Lake Rebecca. At Lake Rebecca there is another boat launch, which, like the Mississippi River launch, lacks a launch dock. However, Jenkins said, Lake Rebecca does have areas where boats can dock on the shore.
At Lake Isabel, the city maintains a fishing pier, but no boat launch.
For people looking for better access to the river, Jenkins said that Hastings’ three private marinas are likely the best bet.
“If (boaters) have mobility issues, that’s likely going to be a viable option,” he said.
However, launching at private marinas requires boaters to pay to use the launch.