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Louisville’s West End Gets Its Own Boat Ramp

Boat Ramp Shawnee Park groundbreaking
A ground-breaking ceremony for a boat ramp at Shawnee Park in Louisville on January 17, 2019.

Former councilwoman Cheri Bryant Hamilton felt fortunate to grow up along the Ohio River in Louisville’s West End, but for a long time overgrowth has blocked views of the waterway and worse yet, there is no access to the river, she said.

City and state officials broke ground Friday on a new public boat ramp in Shawnee Park, providing easier access to families in west Louisville and increasing recreational opportunities along the river below the Falls of the Ohio.

“This boat ramp will be highly utilized because people want to have fun, they want to fish, they want to canoe, they want to commune with nature,” Hamilton said.

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer called the boat ramp an “exclamation point” on recent or upcoming investments made in west Louisville including the new YMCA, the Sports and Learning Complex and the Beecher Terrace Housing Complex.

Ramp Construction

The project has been 20 years in the making and is one of more than 160 boat ramps statewide, said Paul Wilkes, fisheries director at Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources.

Construction on the ramp is set to begin in earnest this summer and could be complete as soon as this fall, but it depends the weather. Workers need low river levels to make the ramp long enough that it’s usable even when the water is low.

Final costs for the projects are yet to be determined, but it’s estimated to be in the neighborhood of $1 million, Wilkes said. Funding for the ramp comes from city and state dollars, including federal funds designated for sport fish restoration and boat ramp access.

Some Of Kentucky’s Best Fishing

On a big river like the Ohio, changes in flow can congregate fish. In this case, the Falls of the Ohio and the lower McAlpine Dam act as natural barriers, making it an ideal spot for anglers. The most common fishing species in the area include hybrid-striped bass, several catfish species, sauger and the occasional walleye.

“And it really is some of our best fishing waters in the state, so I’m just excited to see easier access,” Wilkes said.

Invasive Asian carp too, have made their way up the Ohio River to the Cannelton Pool below the McAlpine Dam. Wilkes said the ramp will act as another access point for Fish and Wildlife to help slow the spread of carp upriver.

Be careful what you eat though, as Kentucky has strict limits on the amount of fish that can be consumed. That's because there's mercury in the fish, passed down from the state’s coal-fired power plants.

Democratic Rep. Charles Booker of Louisville grew up not far from Shawnee Park and remembers playing there when he was young. But for him and his friends, the river might as well have been another state away because there was no access to the river.

Booker, who is also running for U.S. Senate, said efforts to increase recreational access to the river are important to the fight for equity across the state.

“And I’ve got a lot of anglers in my family so this is going to be a gift, and a big opportunity to get some more young people involved outdoors, and just appreciate the resources that we have,” he said.

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter. Email Ryan at rvanvelzer@lpm.org.