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Boaters pay so ramp can open again
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Lake Lanier’s dwindling levels have left boaters with only a handful of operational ramps, but local fishermen and rowers alike have worked together to raise funds that will allow a ramp at Clarks Bridge Park to open on Sunday.

On Monday, Lake Lanier Rowing Club donated $1,000 to a ramp extension fundraising effort initiated by bait and tackle store owner Kerry Hicks.

Hicks, owner of Smokin’ Fisherman near Clermont, said he and other fishermen have collected $2,800, as well as $3,000 worth of materials, for the ramp extension project.

Hicks signed an agreement with Gainesville and Hall County, which operate the park together under a lease from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and has agreed to donate all materials and labor for the project. With lake levels currently hovering at about 20 feet below full pool, there are two operational public boat ramps on the lake — Tidwell and Shoal Creek, neither of which are on the north end.

"We had no place for pleasure boats, for jet skis, for passenger boats, for anybody to use," Hicks said. "And without using that water, all the convenience stores, tackle stores and gas stations, everybody gets hurt in our community. ... But hopefully by Sunday, you’ll be able to put your boat in."

Hicks said some of the concrete for the longest of the three boat ramps at Clarks Bridge was donated by Candler Concrete, and the 18 feet of concrete will be poured today. The extended concrete boat ramp will reach the water’s edge, where it will be connected to a 45-foot metal boat ramp on Saturday. Hicks said the ramp is slated to be open for public use on Sunday.

"This is really going to help," Hicks said. "You’re going to see that parking lot full on the weekends."

Although the boat ramp extension project is not part of Gov. Sonny Perdue’s Go Fish project that aims to build multiple ramps at Laurel Park, County Commissioner Steve Gailey sanctioned the grassroots effort and hosted the Lake Lanier Rowing Club’s check presentation to Hicks at the Courthouse Annex Monday.

"I think everybody realizes how important the lake is and getting a boat into the water ... and I think this just proves everything’s headed in the right direction," Gailey said.

Hicks said that he plans to try and open a second ramp at Clarks Bridge as soon as he can obtain the materials.

Mike Gillen, president of the LLRC, said the low lake levels have affected the pocketbooks of not only tackle shop, convenience store and gas station owners along the lake, but has also negatively affected the lake’s rowing club.

He said that February and March are prime practice season for various collegiate rowing teams that typically visit the lake each year. Gillen said Lake Lanier usually hosts 12 different university rowing teams during the season, including Yale University and Canadian colleges. Approximately 1,100 students travel to the lake each year to gear up for the racing season, and use local hotels, gas stations and restaurants during their stay.

But due to well-publicized low levels, only six schools have planned their regular trip to Lake Lanier this year.

"It hurts everyone — not just me," Hicks said of the slow business at his bait shop and other lake-related businesses.

"By extending this ramp down to the water totally, we’ll ... be able to use it a whole lot sooner," Hicks said. "Putting people on the water is going to put business in all the stores."