Don't Give Up The Slip!

By Ryck Lydecker

This Labor Day weekend, boaters can have "front row slips" for the 200th anniversary reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie, thanks to Ohio's participation in the Boating Infrastructure Grant Program.

Photo of panoramic view of boats on Lake ErieThe BIG program uses excise taxes that boaters pay on fuel and fishing supplies to build ramps, mooring fields, and marina slips for visiting boaters, among many other things. (Photo: John Rees)

With the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Lake Erie on the horizon this fall, slips for visiting boats will be in high demand among the islands that provided the backdrop for Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's history-changing naval victory in the War of 1812. For boaters eager to plan a trip there, either in their own boat or with a local charter, Ohio's Middle Bass Island State Park has a nearly new marina (opened late in the 2009 boating season) near the center of action. The 252-slip marina has 110 slips dedicated to transient boats. The $2.5-million project used seed money from two federal Boating Infrastructure Grants (BIG) to rebuild a dilapidated and marginally safe marina there.

Middle Bass, long a quiet, laid-back destination for American and Canadian boaters, is within a few hours' cruise of Cleveland to the east, Detroit to the west. The islands are a popular day-trip or cruising destination, a dozen miles open-lake transit from the Ohio mainland, homeport for hundreds of recreational boats and several bareboat charter operations. That distance, plus the unique biological and geological characteristics of Middle Bass, made this a marina project to remember. In fact, an apt mantra for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources (DNR) project managers and the marina construction engineers on the 10-year project (with apologies to Commodore Perry, of course) might have been: Don't give up the slip!

Worth The Wait

In 1999, state officials purchased 124 acres on the south end of Middle Bass, including the neglected marina and an historic winery (Lake Erie Islands vineyards are famous). They planned a new state park with camping facilities, improved habitat for protected plant and animal species, and better visitor access to the island's unique natural features. A major goal was to rebuild the marina with new seasonal slips, and expand service to transient boaters with assistance from the boater-funded federal BIG program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Chief among biological challenges proved to be the Lake Erie Water Snake, an endangered species under federal law. "The complex biological and geological relationships of the site, coupled with the habitation of the snake within the project area, added many hurdles, precautions, and limitations for planners," reports Dave Kieffer, project engineer for the Ohio DNR Division of Watercraft, which administered the grants. "The permitting process took three years, continued to challenge the crews throughout construction, and influenced the site well after work was completed." The project required a two-mile, three-foot-high "snake fence," plus 30 traps that the DNR's "snake lady," Kristen Stanford, used to collect and relocate the endangered reptiles.

Show Me The Money

Photo of 4th of July fireworks over Lake EriePhoto: John Rees

Redesigning the old marina basin required blasting out tons of bedrock from the entrance, removing a longtime navigation hazard. Complicating construction, no in-water work could take place during fish-spawning season (mid-April thorough June), and work stopped for three to four months each year due to ice. The project required roughly nine years of seasonal construction with the aid of two BIG grants, $956,293 awarded in 2001 and $864,800 in 2002, matched by just under $640,000 in non-federal dollars. An additional $45,000 from the federal Clean Vessel Act program paid for pumpout service at the marina.

BoatUS shepherded the legislation that made this project possible through Congress in 1998. The BIG program uses excise taxes that boaters pay on fuel and fishing supplies. These funds, about $650 million annually, are dispersed from the Sport Fish Restoration and Boating Trust Fund to state agencies (in this case, Ohio's DNR) for safety education, law enforcement, fisheries conservation, and vessel sewage pumpouts, as well as to build infrastructure like launching ramps, mooring fields, and marina slips for visiting boaters.

The 110 transient slips at Middle Bass Island State Park Marina are expected to fill quickly this season. Day use is first-come first-served, but overnight dockage is available by reservation beginning in mid-March. Phone 419-734-4424 ext. 2; after May 1, 419-285-0311. The site includes a two-lane launching ramp and courtesy dock for trailer boaters. (The ferry from Port Clinton, Ohio, accommodates trailer boats; for reservations, call 419-285-2421 local, or 800-500-2421.) Marine City in nearby Marblehead, Ohio, a BoatUS Cooperating Marina, offers discounts on slips to BoatUS Members.

Another BIG Island

Can't get away for the big battle on Labor Day weekend? There's always July 4. At Put-in-Bay, on South Bass Island, the celebration is a time-honored annual tradition, both on the island and in the water. Put-in-Bay Harbor is home to half a dozen marinas plus two village-owned docks with transient slips and mooring buoys. Demand is high in summer, so a new BIG project is set to break ground this fall. The $3.5-million project ($2.2 million in BIG funding) will renovate or replace 905 feet of existing docks, add 590 feet of new floating docks, install new lighting, add updated electrical and water services to the slips, and install improved fire-protection equipment for transient boaters. It's expected to open in time for the 2014 boating season.  

Associate editor Ryck Lydecker works on BoatUS Government Affairs policy issues.

— Published: April/May 2013

On Deck For The Battle Of Lake Erie

Hungry for history but don't fancy sailing blue water to get the taste of it? Don't worry. You can have front-row seats for the bicentennial reenactment of the Battle of Lake Erie this fall. The lake will be alive with tall ships as up to 18 will visit U.S. and Canadian ports around the lake this August. On Labor Day weekend, August 30 to September 1, the armada will converge on Put-in-Bay on South Bass Island, where organizers hope a fleet of 1,000 private boats will join a "fleet parade" with U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels. (A $75 fee per-boat helps support the festivities.)

The Battle of Lake Erie marked the turning point in the War of 1812, securing U.S. control of the Great Lakes and setting the border with Canada. It also marked the young U.S. Navy's first fleet victory and the first time "an enemy force" had captured an entire British Royal Navy squadron. Although the actual battle occurred on September 10, the reenactment will take place on Labor Day, September 2, around the islands, a dozen miles or so off the Ohio mainland. It will feature the Perry flagship replica USS Niagara. The nonprofit educational Perry Group is offering opportunities to enlist as crew for 557 persons, the number Perry led into battle aboard his squadron of nine small vessels.


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