Recently, a friend and I decided to fish Lake Greenwood in our kayaks, targeting some boat docks for the crappie we knew would be hiding there out of the summer sun. It was a busy day at the newest public access area built by Greenwood County. Fortunately, the two of us were equipped with kayak trolleys that allowed us to park our vehicles, slide the boats off in the parking lot, wheel down the ramp and launch in less time than even the most-experienced trailer boater.

After our day on the water, it was a different situation for a group of five or six paddlers launching after we had taken out. The group parked its vehicles in the turnaround, carried boats to the water, unloaded their gear, sorted it among the various boats, then moved the vehicles, returned to the ramp and slowly paddled off. Though I did not time the event, I’m guessing 30 minutes for the group, which started out on both ramps, then consolidated over to one after another boater politely asked if he could back his trailer past them.

As an owner of both a powerboat and multiple paddlecraft, I’ve been on both sides of this equation when putting in at public boat landings. Perhaps I took note of this event more closely than most because I had the opportunity to interview both the county engineer and S.C. Department of Natural Resources representatives shortly before this particular ramp opened six years ago.

At that time, both parties to the design and construction were ecstatic about building a public access area that complied with SCDNR’s newest guidelines for construction. The focus was on extending ramps far enough into the water that then-frequent drought situations didn’t leave boaters high and dry. No one was thinking about canoe or kayak access to big bodies of water via public boat ramps. That just goes to show how fast our ranks have grown, and that many of us use watercraft that are more akin to plastic john boats than old-fashioned kayaks. Not to mention, a lot of us no longer have the strength required to drag a 150 pound, gear-laden boat up and down an embankment on the side of the road.

Far be it from me to complain about public access for paddlers. In my experience, public access-owning authorities like the SCDNR, USACE and various town and county municipalities have bent over backwards to make way for paddlers to gain entry to public waters. Part of this is because of the green movement. Palmetto Paddlers tread lightly, leaving only bubbles in our wake, and everybody supports that. 

However, not all areas are conducive to allowing both types of access. Fortunately, Tim Vinson, boating access section supervisor for SCDNR, is a brother paddler and keeps the needs of paddlers in mind when his department is looking at the design or overhaul of one of the SCDNR-maintained public access areas.

“There are floating docks at some boating facilities,” said Vinson. “I don’t like to get into my kayak off of one of these because I am afraid I will roll over.  I know that in some parks areas, there may be grab rails or cradles affixed to docks. This is good in a controlled area. If we were to place anything like this on a public dock, it usually gets knocked off by big boats, or someone will take it.”

Providing public boating access requires pretty standardized construction, methods and safeguard issues.

“When we build a boat ramp along a water body, they are made out of concrete,” Vinson said. “We build the concrete ramps because they hold up for a very long time. As a generic launch area, every type of vessel can use it. It will not float away if the area should flood and they are hard to steal.”

The major difference between inland access areas and coastal access areas is land ownership. Since all of the state’s impoundments are created water bodies, the owning authority had to purchase the surrounding land to build the lake. With federal requirements in place governing public access, acquiring land to build such an area is typically pretty simple. Along the coast, it’s not that simple. Government authorities may have right-of ways to allow for maintenance of public waterways like the ICW, but adjacent land is not so available for development and use by the general public.        

Tidal areas also require certain materials, such as poured concrete, to keep the land stable amid ever-changing currents. Pair that with the relative low supply of public acreage suitable for a launch area ,and the only alternative is trailered boats and car-toppers using the same space. 

“I personally like to use a grassed or sandy area to keep from scratching up our kayaks, but I will use the concrete ramps if there is no suitable areas adjacent,” said Vinson. “I really don’t trust some of the bigger boats that may back down toward me as well, in fear that they may not see us there. So far, I’ve had no issues. I will not use the more popular areas, especially on a weekend or holiday.”

Palmetto Paddlers who are interested in learning more about public boating access areas and what steps or “adoptions” might be available, can contact Tim Vinson at VinsonT@dnr.sc.gov