Commissioners Could Vote Thursday To Charge for Use of Canyon Lake Boat Ramps
Months of heated debate about how to fix overcrowding and safety issues at the nine Canyon Lake boat ramps operated by Comal County came to an abrupt end on social media late Tuesday.
Pct. 4 Comal County Commissioner Jen Crownover made a surprise post on Facebook announcing she’d just seen an agenda item for Thursday’s Commissioners Court meeting that would allow the county to restrict access to the ramps by charging a fee for their use.
She said the agenda item, proposed by Pct. 1 Commissioner Donna Eccleston, is actually an addendum to the county’s existing agreement with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), which owns and manages Canyon Lake and controls its shoreline.
Crownover urged Canyon Lake residents to review Item 20 and show up to speak about it when the measure is presented before the court.
“Plan out what you want to say so you get your point across,” she said. “They will cut you off at three minutes, so be prepared.”
The proposed addendum, addressed to Eccleston and signed by USACE Fort Worth District Management and Disposal Branch Chief Lucas Cecil, removes the words “free public use” and “free public access” from the county’s agreement with USACE.
Area residents quickly responded to Crownover’s post, filling up the comments sections on several Facebook pages. Many were outraged by Eccleston’s idea and by the thought of paying to use facilities they take for granted.
“Wow. Just wow,” one user replied on Crownover’s official county Facebook page. “We residents already pay taxes, etc.”
“Propose to make improvements, larger parking lots, and more swim areas,” suggested another. “Not more restrictions!”
“Our lake has been taken over by people that don’t even live in Comal County,” added another. “If you want to tube on the river, forget the weekends. Water Oriented Recreation District of Comal County (WORD) collects on everything but the taxpayers get nothing.”
However, Crownover said WORD fees, which are tourist-funded, pay for additional law enforcement and litter cleanup.
“That’s actually a huge service to the county,” she said. “Without that, county residents would be stuck directly with those bills and the messes left behind.”
WORD issues permits to water-related businesses, allowing them to collect user fees from customers visiting its district, which encompasses Canyon Lake and over 30 miles of floatable water on the Guadalupe River. Funds are used to improve the environment and welfare of the district by conserving natural resources, improving public health, promoting water safety, and operating public parks.
Boat Ramp Controversy
The controversy over how best to deal with the chaos and confusion at Canyon Lake’s county-operated boat ramps began on June 10 when Eccleston drafted and presented to the court new regulations for boat ramps that clarified and updated 27-year-old language in a 1994 order still in place today.
The 1994 order limits use of boat ramps to the launch and recovery of boats only. No fishing, partying, swimming or loitering is allowed. Other offenses include parking, picknicking, obstructing and ignoring requests or orders from law enforcement.
Eccleston defended her rewrite, saying it clarified things for both the public and for law-enforcement officers who must safely and consistently enforce the same rules for boat ramps that are dissimilar.
“Everything you couldn’t do before you still can’t do and there’s nothing new in this order,” she said in June.
Dozens of Canyon Lake residents disagreed, with their biggest concern centering around pedestrian access to the lake, primarily on weekdays or winter season when overcrowding isn’t an issue.
Over the course of two Commissioners Court meetings and a special workshop session, they told commissioners they felt penalized by rules that keep everyone off the shoreline except for boaters and those wealthy enough to own “lakefront property.”
Many solutions were proposed. Several suggested a collaborative approach between all stakeholders, a lengthy list which also includes WORD, Guadalupe-Blanco River Authority, Comal County Sheriff’s Office, Comal County Constable’s Office, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety.
County Judge Sherman Krause proposed new signage to clarify confusion about who can park where — especially kayakers who are fearful of being ticketed because they don’t pull trailers.
Pct. 2 Constable Mark Cheatum worried about heavy congestion created by companies who rent pontoons and ferry as many as 30 people to boat ramps while waiting for another 30 to disembark.
“We get lots of people all over and we’ve had accidents and so forth,” he said in June. “The no-wake area of the lake needs to be where there is no swimming in the wake area. If 200 feet goes beyond the no-wake area, that’s great. People get cut arms with boats running it.”
MyCanyonLake.com reached out to Eccleston for comment and will update this story to include her reaction to Crownover’s post.
Commissioners Court meets at 8:30 a.m. Thursdays in Comal County’s historic courthouse, 100 N. Seguin Ave., New Braunfels.