KAUKAUNA — Imagine boating down the lower Fox River from Lake Winnebago to Wrightstown.
For the past three decades, that’s been a pipe dream. By spring 2015, it will be a reality.
The Fox River Navigational System Authority has begun a $3.3 million project to restore and reopen three Kaukauna locks — Nos. 1, 2 and 3 — for boating. Restoration of a fourth Kaukauna lock — No. 5 — will be bid separately later this summer but also will be finished by the 2015 boating season.
“The restoration of the Kaukauna locks is part of the final phase of the overall lower Fox River lock restoration project that began in 2005,” said Harlan Kiesow, CEO of the Fox River Navigational Authority, which was created by the state.
Upon the reopening of the shuttered Kaukauna locks, only one obstacle — the Rapide Croche aquatic invasive species barrier near Wrightstown — will prevent boaters from traveling between Lake Winnebago and Green Bay.
The Rapide Croche barrier will remain sealed, but the navigational authority plans to construct an overland boat lift and cleaning station to clear the obstacle. That work is scheduled for 2015-17 and would be the last piece of a puzzle that hasn’t been together since the 17-lock system was shut down in 1984.
“The opening of the lock system should not only provide boating opportunities but will also foster recreational and historic tourism, as well as promote community waterfront economic development,” Kiesow said.
The lower Fox River lock system was once key to Wisconsin’s shipping and paper industries but was closed as those industries declined and maintenance costs grew.
The navigational authority took over management of the system from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in 2004. Since then, the authority has reopened to boaters the Menasha, four Appleton, Cedars, Little Rapids and De Pere locks. The Little Chute locks have been restored but are not open to boaters because of a required bridge replacement on Mill Street.
“Everybody has been waiting for this for a long time,” Kiesow said. “They are getting excited about it.”
The Boldt Co., based in Appleton, has been hired to restore the Kaukauna locks to their 1930s style. The project includes repairing the locks’ mechanical systems and rebuilding the locks’ walls, gates, chambers and guard houses.
The Wisconsin Historical Society and Legacy Architecture of Sheboygan are working with Boldt on the historical preservation. All 17 locks are listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
“We’re just repairing what we can and replacing what we can’t to make sure the locks work and function properly,” said Jennifer Lehrke, principal architect and consultant at Legacy Architecture. “However, we’re also matching old parts and ensuring the locks retain their historical value.”
Reed Rodenkirch, project manager for Boldt, said his crew will try to replicate the outstanding workmanship of a bygone era.
“I consider it sort of working in an outdoor museum,” he said. “We are actually building a museum display for the public.”
— Duke Behnke: 920-729-6622, ext. 32, or firstname.lastname@example.org; on Twitter @DukeBehnke