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Smithfield's Neuse River boat ramp to get major upgrade

By John Hamlin
Staff Reporter, Smithfield Herald

Smithfield’s boat ramp onto the Neuse River will likely get an upgrade in the next year.

In a presentation last month to the Smithfield Town Council, Christian Waters of the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission said his agency would like to improve the town’s ramp in order to increase access for freshwater fishermen. The state plans to bear the full cost of the project, and it will transfer ownership to the town once it signs off on terms laid out in a 25-year agreement.

Pending town approval, the Wildlife Commission plans to design and build a boat ramp, floating dock and parking lot to replace the current ramp, located just north of Market Street. The current setup is little more than a paved ramp that drops off into the Neuse. The commission also plans to install an informational kiosk that identifies the ramp as a public fishing area.

The commission will provide all of the necessary construction materials, Waters said, and it will perform any major repairs that might become necessary.

“If there were a flooding event and a section of the pier, for example, was damaged severely, we would come back and replace that,” he said.

In return, Smithfield will have to agree to maintain public access to the boat ramp and to conduct routine maintenance and minor repairs. For instance, the town might need to screw down loose boards from time to time, Waters said.

The current plans include a single-lane, 14-foot-wide concrete boat ramp built to state standards, said Mark Hamlett, engineering chief for the Wildlife Commission. The floating dock is currently projected to be 60 feet long, he said, but it could get longer or shorter as plans get more exact. Boaters could use the dock for loading and unloading; so could kayakers and canoers.

The parking lot would have room for six vehicles with trailers, Hamlett said. The site would also make accommodations for the handicapped, he said, including a designated parking space, special sidewalk and a railing along the dock.

The project looks like an outstanding opportunity for Smithfield, said Councilman Andy Moore, who added he was glad to see accommodations for canoes and kayaks built into the plans.

“With our greenway going right by there, that’s an opportunity for kayakers to pull up, get out, walk around downtown and grab something to eat,” he said “Back a couple weeks ago, I saw some folks at a downtown sub shop eating who had been kayaking.”

The Wildlife Commission gets more requests for canoeing and kayaking access all the time, Hamlett said, and it tries to keep those uses in mind when designing new facilities.

The Wildlife Commission has budgeted for the project and hopes to complete it by next June, Hamlett said. That timeline will depend a lot on permitting and weather, he said. The Smithfield council might approve the project as soon as this month.

The project came together thanks to the Downtown Smithfield Development Corp., which reached out to the Wildlife Commission in an effort to take better advantage of the town’s location on the Neuse River, said executive director Sarah Edwards.

“We’re so unique in that we have a river that runs through our downtown, and we want to take advantage of that,” she said. “This boat ramp will not only increase access to the river for Smithfield and Johnston County residents; there’s tremendous potential for it to bring visitors to Smithfield, which of course will help our businesses.”

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