JACKSON, Mississippi — Changes are happening at Ross Barnett Reservoir and more are on the way, but not everyone is happy about them. One recent change has some anglers downright upset.
Goshen Springs Landing is the most popular launch on Barnett Reservoir. Multiple ramps, an adjacent convenience store and restaurant, bathroom facilities and its location draw so many boaters and fishermen that the parking lot overflows with pickups and trailers at times.
"It's like a three-ring circus in the mornings," Rabbit Rogers of Fannin said. "If you can't find a place to park, you've got to park on (Mississippi) 43 and the speed limit is 55 out there."
But tucked away behind Sunset Marina, just across Mississippi Highway 43, is the smaller and less used Safe Harbor ramp. On high traffic days at Goshen Springs, it became Rogers' preferred ramp until it was recently closed.
"It shocked me when I drove up and saw that locked gate," Rogers said. "Most everybody I've talked to is aware of what's going on, and they don't understand why they would take away a landing.
"If you were going to fish down the lake it was closer — just a little handier."
For anglers who prefer to use kayaks, the closing of the Safe Harbor launch is an even bigger inconvenience.
"I used to use it a pretty good bit," Brad Case of Florence said. "Now, it's almost impossible for us to paddle around to that southwest side."
While Goshen Springs Landing is just across the highway, Case said it was not a very good option for paddlers. The distance from the ramps to the bridge where boaters access the main lake adds travel time. According to Case, the powerboat traffic doesn't make the trip any easier.
"You're fighting every boat out there," Case said.
John Sigman, Barnett Reservoir general manager, said the Safe Harbor ramp was used by some boaters, but it was leased about 18 months ago for a larger development.
"That ramp was part of the property that Sunset Marina leased," Sigman said. "We had an opportunity to lease that property for revenue and that's what we chose to do."
Other small ramps may also be closed to the general public. Sigman said the Barnett Reservoir board of directors recently approved a plan to lease the Forest Point boat ramp and park to the neighborhood homeowners association. The same may be done in other neighborhoods.
For neighborhood residents, leasing the ramps means less outside traffic. For Barnett Reservoir, the $25 lease of a park or boat ramp doesn't generate appreciable income, but it's still beneficial.
"What the district gets out of leasing a ramp and park is we no longer have to maintain them," Sigman said. "You're talking small amounts of money, but it is reducing our maintenance effort."
Individually, the ramps cost little to maintain, but collectively, the costs and labor add up. "There are probably 15 of those neighborhood ramps like that," Sigman said.
Even so, Sigman said it's more about the residents.
"The bigger issue is the quality of life for the people who live in the subdivisions," Sigman said.
While there is potential for future neighborhood ramp leasing, Sigman said there are 14 other public ramps outside of the neighborhoods and the savings in labor and money can go toward maintaining and improving them.
Currently, Sigman said projects include a new kayak launch at Turtle Point Park that is getting some finishing touches and dredging at the Ratliff Ferry ramp and farther upriver.
In the long term, Sigman said there are plans for an additional parking lot near the Goshen Springs ramps, replacing concrete piers with floating piers and new bathroom facilities around the reservoir and near Flag Island.
But all of those improvements require funding and under the current budget, Sigman said they could be slow to come.
"We're going to have to look for funding from other sources," Sigman said. "Either grants or whatever sources are there. As it stands now, we have to maintain the status quo and nobody's happy with that."
Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com