Posted on Jul 13, 2021 by


The Fox Locks system and the City of Kaukauna will officially open the five locks on the Fox River in a today, July 13 from 3:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. The ceremony will take place at Kaukauna lock 1, located at 701 Canal St., Kaukauna. Repairs to the Veterans Memorial Lift Bridge in Kaukauna are complete and the bridge will raise and lower to welcome the first boat traffic on the Kaukauna section of the lock system in more than 35 years.

“This project is yet another progressive move for our City and for the long-term betterment of our community,” said City of Kaukauna Mayor, Tony Penterman. “Opening these five locks to boater traffic will give Kaukauna an economic boost and connection to the Fox Cities. Boaters will now be able to take in all the beautiful views the Fox River has to offer throughout Kaukauna.”

The one-mile stretch of the Fox River represents the sharpest elevation drop of 50.4 feet from the guard lock near downtown Kaukauna to lock 5 just north of the Grignon Mansion.

“This is a reality we have been looking forward to for generations,” said Jeremy Cords, CEO of the Fox River Navigational System Authority. “Boats haven’t been able to travel on the Fox River from Menasha to Kaukauna for generations and this represents opening the last major stretch of the locks system since they were reconstructed in 2015.”

So far this summer, boat traffic has more than doubled. From May 22-May 31, 372 boats & kayaks traveled through the open locks as compared to 116 boats & kayaks over the same period in 2020. Traffic during last summer also increased significantly over traffic in 2019:

  •             2019 traffic: 2,563 boats, 12,052 passengers
  •             2020 traffic: 3,982 boats, 17,755 passengers

“We’re confident opening the Kaukauna locks will break all of these records and bring more recreational boaters through the system,” Cords said.

Of the 39-mile lock system about 30 miles will be open in 2021 for navigation. Boaters can travel from the bay of Green Bay to the Rapide Croche lock just south of Wrightstown. The river is also navigable from the Rapide Croche lock south through Kaukauna, Little Chute, Appleton and into Little Lake Butte des Morts to the closed Menasha lock. Both the Menasha lock and the Rapide Croche lock are closed to prevent the spread of invasive species.

Kaukauna interpretative trail announced

Cords also announced plans to develop an interpretative trail along the five Kaukauna locks, thanks to a $300,000 grant from the David L. and Rita E. Nelson Family Fund within the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The 1.3 mile trail will run adjacent to all five locks and give pedestrians and cyclists a chance to see the locks in action. The trail will be constructed on land already owned by the Fox River Navigational System Authority and will link to existing and proposed trails throughout the Fox Valley.

“This project will increase public access to the historic lock system,” Cords said. “The trail will provide one of the most up-close views of how the locks work along the entire lock system and allow citizens to see living history in action.”

When complete, the trail will feature:

  • A curated trail with informational way-finding signage communicating the history and cultural development of the lock system in a park-like environment.
  • Seating areas with benches and lighting.
  • Access for disabled residents.
  • Exploration of an environmental research project conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey at Kaukauna lock 2.
  • The trail will pass one of two swing bridges built in 1901. This railroad bridge is still in use and opens and closes in under one minute.
  • Trail access will pass sites that are scheduled for future development: the only lock tender house in Kaukauna which will be restored in the future, and the Kaukauna dry dock area which was used for boat and lock repair that is also slated for future restoration.

David and Rita Nelson gave an estate gift of more than $100 million to their charitable fund at the Community Foundation for the Fox Valley Region. The priorities they specified for the money include parks and recreation with a focus on water enjoyment.

“David Nelson especially loved spending time on and along the water, and he shared those experiences with so many during his lifetime,” said Community Foundation President and CEO Curt Detjen. “The Nelson family origins are in Kaukauna and I am sure they would have walked a trail like this, watching the locks in action.  It is a living history lesson, and their other passion was history. This is an exciting opportunity to enhance community connections while showcasing the Kaukauna’s rich history and wonderful waterways.”

Construction has already started on portions of the trail and is slated for public opening in Spring of 2022. Design partner for the project is Westwood Professional Services (formerly OMNNI Associates).

For more information on the lock system, please visit this link. 

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