For the first time in three decades the locks system in Kaukauna is now open to boat traffic, thanks to generous time and support from the community.
By Jeremy Cords, CEO of the Fox River Navigational System Authority
One of the final legs of the Fox River locks system is open for navigation! In addition the community will have greater pedestrian access thanks to a grant from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund.
The Fox Locks on Tuesday announced it will develop a 1.3-mile interpretative trail to run adjacent to all five Kaukauna locks and give pedestrians and cyclists a chance to see the locks in action.
The trail will connect to existing and proposed trails throughout the Fox Valley and link the past and future of the lock system.
With repairs to the Veterans Memorial lift bridge in Kaukauna complete, the final leg of the 39-mile system of locks and dams is now open to the public.
The five locks in Kaukauna feature the steepest drop in elevation on the system: a drop of 50.4 feet in just over one mile.
This contribution is all about increasing accessibility to the lock system.
Boaters get to see the living history of the locks in action, but now pedestrians and residents will be able to get closer to the locks at a location where all five locks are within easy walking distance.
The Fox Locks are the only fully restored, hand-operated lock system in the nation and were reconstructed from 2005-2015.
Developing a trail along the five locks will give pedestrians greater access to watch the locks in action.
Most significantly, the plan calls for taking down high fences and replacing them with fences that allow pedestrians to get closer to the locks with better views of the operation.
Visitors will also have the chance to chat with lock tenders and learn more about how the locks work.
The trail will also feature informational way-finding signage communicating the history and cultural development of the lock system, seating areas with benches and lighting and access for disabled residents.
It will run adjacent to the historic Grignon Mansion, a reminder of Wisconsin’s earliest settlers and will provide views of the Thilmany mill, a symbol of the paper industry that fueled economic expansion in the region.
The history of the lock system and Kaukauna have been linked since a crew of 500 workers began excavations for the lock and dam system in Kaukauna in June of 1851. The 17 locks on the Fox River have been restored to the original workings from when they were built in the 1850s.
Originally used to transport goods to market, today the locks provide river navigation for recreational boaters and select commercial vessels.
Construction has already started on portions of the trail and is slated for public opening in spring of 2022.
Who were the Nelsons? Learn more about the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund and find out more about this couple here.