State project will widen boat ramp, make it more a family destination

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Red Star Public Fishing Access point on the Mississippi River will reopen sometime in the spring with improvements that not only boaters will enjoy. A pavilion for picnics, improved lighting and restrooms will accompany a new double-length boat ramp at the site.

In 2001, the Missouri Department of Conservation bought 8.3 acres of land north of the downtown floodwall and east of Main Street in Cape Girardeau. The land was owned by AmerenUE but was leased yearly by the Honkers Boat Club, a group of local boating enthusiasts.

The distinctive feature of this land was its more than 40-year-old boat access point. Red Star is the only public dock and ramp on the Mississippi between St. Louis and Memphis.

That is what caught the state's eye, said Missouri Department of Conservation Southeast Regional Office Area manager Rocky Hayes.

"It's our mission to manage the fishery resources. The department has a master plan to have fishing at intervals up and down the river, so when this came up for sale it attracted our attention," Hayes said.

Managing a dock on the river requires a lot of care, so the state was pleased to find this one already had caretakers. "It's not easy to maintain a dock on the Mississippi because of its fluctuations," Hayes said. "The dock has to be regularly brought in and let out."

For that purpose, the 100-foot-dock at Red Star is fitted with wheels, and members of the Honkers Boat Club manage the placement.

'Pretty important location'

Hayes has been involved with the acquisition from the beginning.

"It's a pretty important location," Hayes said. "There are some pleasure boaters, a lot of people that go fishing or hunting up and down the river and on the islands, survey companies, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. That's why we wanted to improve it."

The ramp will have several improvements. It will be raised by 5 feet with a new limestone foundation meant to combat the fluctuations of the river and the mud and silt left behind when the river level rises. The construction will also include a slight depression running up to the parking lot that will drain water into the river after a flood.

The ramp will be widened to 38 feet, enough for two crafts.

The total project will cost the state $398,000.

Steve Foeste of the Honkers Boat Club owns an 18-foot-long johnboat and looks forward to the improvements.

"It'll be much better," he said, "I don't know how much more usage it'll get, but for those of us that do use it it will be a nicer facility."

The dearth of Mississipi dock points makes Red Star an ideal stopping point for a new type of traveler.

"We get some folks who are boating the length of the Mississippi. That's their way of seeing the world," Hayes said. "We've even had some people boat down the Chicago River all the way down the Misssissippi and up around the Eastern Seaboard."

The Red Star Access point is crucial for these boaters who need a place to stop, gas up and get a good meal on solid ground. Kidd Oil Co. of Cape Girardeau offers gas service on demand to boats at the dock.

The boating site will also add a new identity when construction is complete: family destination. "We're hoping that people will come down here just to enjoy the river, not necessarily as boaters," Hayes said.

This effort will include the construction of a pavilion and picnic tables above the north side of the ramp. The location offers a view of the Bill Emerson Memorial Bridge. Improvements are also being made to lighting, parking and walkways. Men's and women's restrooms will be added.

Red Star will continue to be a popular location for fishing tournaments. Cabela's held a qualifying tournament in October of this year as part of their Kingcat national catfish competition, and Bass Pro Shops will hold a tournament next August.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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