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Fox Locks awarded challenge grant for improving portages

Thanks to a matching grant challenge from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region, construction could soon begin to improve portages on the Fox River locks system. Once the $150,000 match is raised, the matching grant will be used to help the Fox River Navigation System Authority (FRNSA) build improved portages along the system.  

Since reopening the locks in 2015, non-motorized boaters have been portaging around the lock and dam system through temporary or makeshift portages often made by the boaters for one season. Existing portages are muddy, rugged paths or have not been maintained and are unsafe. And in recent years the Fox Locks have attracted a growing number of paddlers. 

“We have seen steady growth in people exploring the Fox River through the locks on kayaks and canoes,” said Phil Ramlet, executive director of FRNSA. “Improving the portages is the best thing we can do to make the river accessible to a broad range of users and this grant will help us do that.”  

Portages will be designed for safety and convenience of boaters at improved access points along the lock system.  

Another benefit of upgrading the portages is they will help to stabilize the shoreline along the locks. 

“Most people are not aware of how the swift current of the Fox River erodes and destabilizes the shoreline along the lock system,” Ramlet said. “The grant will help us support our mission of repairing and maintaining the lock system for all boaters.”  

Non-motorized boaters use the portages to carry their canoes or kayaks overland rather than going through the locks. Because the locks operate primarily on weekends from Memorial Day through Labor Day, paddlers often use the portages to navigate the elevation change on the Fox River when the locks are not operating.  

The organization is still seeking additional donations to complete the portage construction which is estimated at $495,000 and the portages will be phased in over a period of three to five years. 

ABOUT THE FOX LOCKS: The Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) manages the 17 locks on the Fox River. Of the 17 locks, 16 have been restored to full working order and are a recreational, historic, and economic asset to northeast Wisconsin.  All 17 locks are on the National Register of Historic Places and are the only fully restored, hand-operated, functional lock system in the nation.  

For more information visit www.foxlocks.org