New and Improved: Update on Fishing Access Improvements across Rhode Island
By Jillian Thompson, Conservation Engineer and Lauren Miller-Donnelly, Public Access Coordinator, RI DEM
Be on the lookout for improved access to boat ramps and fishing sites around Rhode Island. Partners RIDEM and the Rhode Island Chapter of The Nature Conservancy celebrated three saltwater fishing access improvements this year. State park surveys show that improved boating and fishing opportunities are one of the highest priorities for Rhode Island visitors and the state is listening. The two agencies have formed a partnership to create and improve public access sites for fishing, boating, and hunting throughout Rhode Island.
On Warwick’s eastern shore the construction of the T-shaped fishing pier at Rocky Point State Park tops the list of the last year’s developments. For anglers, the fishing pier provides a plunge into the deep waters of Narragansett Bay, just 10 minutes from downtown Providence. Established as a Rhode Island State Park, the memories of the past are still vivid in Rhode Islander’s minds. Longtime residents who were sad to say goodbye to the former Rocky Point can refresh their memories with panels that tell the stories of the past. Even the entry arch and other architectural elements that led to the wicked popular “Skyway” gondola ride remain in homage to this site’s history.
The new fishing pier complements a variety of recreational opportunities at Rocky Point, including walking, bird-watching, rock climbing and open spaces for sports, picnics and other gatherings. The newly constructed fishing pier, at a cost of just over 2 million dollars provided by Rhode Island Capital Investment funds, is 260 feet long with a 30 feet x20 feet covered shade structure. A comprehensive State Park signage and wayfinding plan is in the works and this spring the City of Warwick intends to install fencing along the approach to the pier using state recreation grant monies.
Across the Bay in Bristol, repair and maintenance work was completed on the public boat launch located in Colt State Park. Originally constructed in 1999, this double-lane ramp includes a middle fixed-dock system that is sloped to allow for launching and retrieving through the tidal fluctuations. The launch is ADA accessible and provides public access to the scenic Narragansett Bay.
The maintenance and repair work was completed by Specialty Diving Services, Inc. (SDS) of North Kingstown, RI. The work began in early November and was finished within five (5) weeks. At least one launch lane was available to boaters during the construction.
The project included the replacement of rotted framing timbers and rusted steel grates located at the end of the fixed dock. These timbers and grates are at the lowest elevation on the dock and are therefore more frequently submerged in water, causing accelerated rot. The replacement lumber is rated for marine construction and is pressure-treated in accordance with the American Wood Protection Association Standards. The SDS crew coordinated this work with the timing of low tide for easier construction conditions.
New rub rails were installed along the edges of the dock to protect boats from scraping against the wood boards. New pile caps were also installed, which discourage birds from landing on the piles. SDS utilized their diving expertise to remove sediment that had accumulated on the boat ramp surfaces, improving conditions for boaters to launch and retrieve their vessels. Funding for the project was provided by US Fish & Wildlife Sportfish Restoration Fund and saltwater fishing license receipts.
On the south shore of Charlestown a newly constructed boat ramp and floating dock system at Quonochontaug Pond enhances access for boaters. “Quonnie”, as Rhode Islanders refer to it, was a small coastal village based on iron extraction from beach sand in the 1800’s, and evidence of native people utilizing the site and channel dates back centuries, including the Pequot and the Narragansett nations.
The Quonochontaug boat ramp is new and improved concrete boat launch and abutment replacing a severely deteriorated and ill-positioned one constructed in the 70’s. The launch is popular with paddlers and small fishing boats, some fishing and others enjoying wildlife and the scenery of the pond. Straddling the towns of Charlestown and Westerly, the 700-acre salt pond is the second largest in the state. The breachway channel provides oceanfront boat access to inshore fishing and a direct route to offshore excursions. Not the easiest channel to navigate, boaters are advised to refer to navigational maps and read the tide charts carefully before venturing out. This saltwater boat ramp project was funded by the USFWS Wildlife Sport Fish Restoration Program and was matched with saltwater fishing license receipts.
Behind the scenes work is underway by multiple partners to ensure that Quonochantaug Pond, the barrier beach, coastal shrubland and saltmarsh, all vital to the entire ecosystem, can withstand the threat of sea level rise and more frequent storm events. Work began in winter 2020 with a comprehensive site assessment by design firm GZA GeoEnvironnmental, Inc. GZA is responsible for delivering recommendations and designs with green solutions for site resiliency. This project will help guide the next steps to take ensuring the health of the ecosystem and the use of the recreational resource well into the future. A grant from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation is supporting the efforts. Partners on this project include the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management, CRMC, NOAA, The Nature Conservancy, Save the Bay, the Town of Charlestown, and members of The Salt Ponds Coalition.
Up and Coming!
DEM intends to use USFWS Sportfish Restoration funds to improve the public boat launch located on Main Street in Westerly in 2021/2022. This popular launch is the only State-owned public access spot to the Pawcatuck River in Rhode Island.
GZA GeoEnvironmental, Inc. is currently working on the design and permitting for the project. The ramp will be replaced with new pre-cast concrete slabs, and the current fixed dock will be replaced with an extended floating dock system.
DEM estimates the construction of the new launch will begin around December 2021 and will be complete by May 2022.