Fishing Close to Home

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Published on: Apr. 2, 1997

Last revision: Oct. 26, 2010

The Conservation Department believes that fishing should be a leisure activity, that it shouldn't cost an arm and a leg, and that people should be able to find good fishing within a 20-minute drive.

After all, what good is good fishing, if you have to drive halfway across the state to find it?

Since 1981, the Conservation Department's Community Assistance Program has established or improved local fishing opportunities in over 80 Missouri communities.

The program provides funds to construct new facilities or to improve old ones. These funds may be used to build a pond, to stabilize an eroding streambank and to provide roads, boat ramps, docks, fishing piers, toilets, bank fishing trails and landscaping.

The program also provides technical assistance in planning and constructing facilities and in fish management. Fisheries experts survey the ponds, lakes and streams in the program and work out a plan, which may include stocking, to help provide the highest quality fishing possible.

Each contract in the Community Assistance Program is geared to the needs of the community. In most agreements, the town obligates itself to maintain and police the parking areas, roads and other facilities and to provide access to anyone who wishes to use them. Conservation agents, however, will enforce fish and wildlife rules.

Although communities have been the main beneficiaries, any public agency or group that owns or holds a long-term lease on property having a lake, pond or stream frontage is eligible for CAP funds.

For example, Mineral Area College in St. Francois County and the Department of Mental Health in Saline County have both received CAP help in building roads, parking areas, piers, fishing platforms and trails.

Shown here are two in-depth examples of communities that have benefited from the Conservation Department's Community Assistance Program.

Moberly's Rothwell Park

Rothwell Park, located on the west side of Moberly, is a well-developed 350-acre community area, situated on rolling hills and combining park like woodlands and thick forest.

The park contains two 24-acre lakes: Rothwell Lake, which was built in 1901 by the Wabash Railroad Company for their steam locomotives, and Old Water Works Lake, which was once the city's water supply. Each lake has a concrete boat ramp and parking lots.

Rothwell Park also contains ballfields, lighted tennis courts and numerous picnic shelters, as well as croquet courts, horseshoe pits, an archery range, a RV trailer camp, a rodeo arena, a youth center and restroom facilities.

Despite those many attractions, the park did not well serve all the people in the community. Its facilities were only minimally accessible to senior citizens and disabled people, many of whom resided at nearby nursing homes, and there wasn't any easy way for people with disabilities to fish Rothwell Lake.

"The steep, hilly terrain around the lake made it impossible for some folks to fish," said Jerry Calvin, director of Moberly's Department of Parks and Recreation. "We had a couple of real nice fishing lakes, but there were just some needs that couldn't be served."

Moberly officials decided the park needed a dock that would allow people, even those in wheelchairs, to fish. Because such a facility would draw in many disabled users, they also decided to build a disabled accessible restroom near the fishing dock.

However, the city of Moberly could find no money for these improvements in their limited budget.

In May 1990, Calvin sent a letter to the Conservation Department expressing an interest in working with the Conservation Department to provide a partially covered fishing dock at Rothwell Lake. He hoped the project might be eligible for funding through the Conservation Department's Community Assistance Program or CAP.

"I'd heard about the program at a conference in St. Louis," Calvin said, "and I saw some potential to improve our lakes."

Conservation Department officials came to Moberly to talk about the project, study the setting and survey the project site. They found that, despite their age, the lakes still had 85 percent of their original capacity and provided a high quality fishery.

The city began negotiations with the Conservation Department and in early April 1991 both parties signed an agreement, in which the Conservation Department would construct a graveled 15-car parking lot, a paved 5-car disabled user-accessible parking lot and a paved path from the parking lot to a walkway that led to a covered fishing dock.

The estimated cost of the project was $23,000. In addition, the Conservation Department would provide $15,000 for construction of restroom facilities adjacent to the parking area.

In addition, the Conservation Department began long-term management of the two lakes. They established regulations and size and creel limits, including a slot length limit on bass, which balanced an overcrowding of small bass. They also provided advice on controlling weed problems and creating fish habitat.

For its part, the city agreed to allow the Conservation Department to manage the fisheries in Rothwell Lake and Old Water Works Lake and to allow free public access and full use of the area by the general public.

This last was a departure from established tradition, for until this time, Moberly had charged people $1.50 a day to fish the lake and had charged for boat launching.

"We gave up our fishing and boat launching permits," Calvin said, "and created a free fishing opportunity that wasn't there before. In return, we were given great technical assistance. If we have a dead fish floating in the lake, we can find out why and take care of things."

The city also has to maintain the new facilities, provide law enforcement for the area and give proper recognition to the Conservation Department in all publications concerning fishing at the lake.

Calvin said that was no problem, crediting the Conservation Deportment's Community Assistance Program. "I drive through the area often and there's no doubt that more people fish the lake now. The nursing homes are now having outings at the park and their residents are going fishing while they are there. The ramp and the fishing dock make it great for disabled visitors.

"It's a great program," he said. "It allows both of us to provide more services to our citizens by combining resources."

Washington's Rennick Park

The city of Washington, in Franklin County, was born of the river. Formed in 1839 at the site of a ferry across the Missouri River, the town grew into a prominent port and a thriving industrial community, known for its zither factory. Washington still boasts the world's only corn cob pipe factory.

The Washington Bridge, which spanned the river in 1936, links this highly visitable and livable town to Interstate 70. Today the community remains vitally connected to the water. The Washington area boasts the highest recreational use of the Missouri River in the state.

To help people enjoy the river, the city established the James W. Rennick Riverfront Park in the early 1980s. The one-acre park, adjacent the downtown area, provided a few picnic tables and pavilions.

Rennick Park couldn't accommodate all those who wanted to enjoy the river. A waste area filled with old concrete served as a rough, inaccessible barrier between the park and the water. Pleasure boaters and anglers would clog the small launch ramp near the park, and their vehicles and trailers would jam the streets near the river.

The city wanted to expand the park and improve its facilities, and in 1987 city officials sent a letter to the Conservation Department, asking if the town qualified for help under the Department's Community Assistance Program.

They planned a major development that included a better launch ramp, lots more parking and easy pedestrian access to the river.

Following discussions and meetings, the Conservation Department agreed to provide over $93,000 for costs of materials necessary for the riverfront parking facility.

In return, the city would use municipal equipment and labor to build the facility. The city also pledged to clean, maintain and police the area.

"When the Conservation Department got involved, that's when major developments started," said Jerry Jasper, director of the City of Washington's Parks and Recreation Department.

The Washington Lion's Club provided money to the city to expand the park, and the Conservation Commission approved funds to develop a lower parking lot area and to help with a courtesy dock.

Conservation Department funding also allowed improving and widening the ramp, which wasn't protected from the river current and was described as difficult and potentially dangerous. The new launch area provided room to negotiate trailers, plenty of trailer parking and a wider apron.

"You can launch three or four boats at a time, without any trouble," said Jasper. "As far as I've been able to see, it's one of the best launches in the state." Jasper described the park as one of the jewels in the crown of the city.

"It's such a nice location, and so visible," Jasper said. "You can find people there from first light to late in the evening; they'll be down there in the dead of winter - no matter how cold or hot. A lot of individuals who can't get outdoors in cold weather like to come to the river. They can sit in their cars and get an unobstructed view of the river a long way up the Missouri valley. That's their recreation.

The park also hosts crafts festivals, the city's art and wine festival and lots of family reunions. "The water will draw people," Jasper said. "When you have a place that has access to the river, and it's nice, they come."

The city plans more development of the riverfront area. "We're going to go both ways, west and east," Jasper said. The next major project is a bike and hike trail that connects Rennick Park with Southpoint, where the city owns another large piece of property.

The development along the riverfront is going hand in hand with the revitalization of Washington's downtown area. "Anything that we can do with the riverfront, the downtown merchants are 110 percent behind," Jasper said. "It's been a definite benefit for them: they enjoy being there, and it draws people from outside the area to downtown."

About the Community Assistance Program

Any public agency or group that owns or holds a long-term lease on property that has lake, pond or stream frontage is eligible.

Any interested citizen, organization or service club can start the ball rolling by suggesting improvements for local waters to either local government officials or to the Conservation Department.

The CAP emphasizes helping communities provide fishing opportunities for youths, the elderly, families and disabled anglers.

Assistance usually takes the form of cash grants, with the community handling construction or contracting parts of the project.

Processing times for CAP agreements vary. Some projects have been processed and completed within three months, while more complex projects have taken up to three years.

For more information about the Community Assistance Program, contact Larry Gann, Department of Conservation, P.O. Box 180, Jefferson City, 65102-0180.

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