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Milwaukee County Boat Launch Ramps: Highest Price & Worst Condition in Wisconsin

7/10/20 @ 2:10 PM
User since 5/14/17

Every launch ramp user in Wisconsin is affected by the TERRIBLE mismanagement of the Milwaukee County boat launch ramps by the Milwaukee County Parks department for the past 30+ years. Why? There is a genuine scorn for boaters who use these ramps at all levels of Milwaukee County government; from the idiot County Executive, to the many clueless County Supervisors, to most of the management level personnel in the County Parks department. 

Milwaukee County launch fees are the HIGHEST in Wisconsin, yet Milwaukee County refuses to follow state law requiring them to provide even the most basic launch ramp services that they agreed to provide in order to charge these fees.

In 2017, Milwaukee County received a state WaterWays grant of nearly 1 million dollars to remodel the South Shore boat launch ramp. WaterWays grants are 50/50 grants, where Milwaukee County was supposed to kick in 1 million as well. Not what happened. Project stopped when the WaterWays monies ran out. Even worse, 95% of the money was NOT spent on launch ramp improvement. WDNR is supposed to monitor this, they allowed Milwaukee County to spend the money on renovating the parking lot, most of which is not used for trailer parking, construction of a pretty walk-way with bio-swales-a wet dream for tree huggers. The launch ramp itself was untouched, with the exception of installation of drain grates that filled up with sand in 2 weeks and have never been unclogged.

WaterWays grants monies are generated through federal excise taxes paid by manufacturers of boating and fishing equipment. When Milwaukee County gets a 1 million dollar grant, and then uses it for everything BUT improving the launch ramp, that means a dozen small communities across Wisconsin do not get grants to build or improve their launch ramps.

In the most populous area of Wisconsin, with a world class Lake Michigan fishery, the 2 operational Milwaukee County boat launch ramps are the worst facilities on the west shore of Lake Michigan. (There is one small ramp in the heart of gang-land Milwaukee-50% chance of your car being there when you come back from fishing) 

On weekends, McKinley Marina launch ramp parking is often filled by 4:30AM. Nearly 20 trailer parking spaces are lost due to a construction company parking equipment there long-term and leaving piles of landscaping materials there. This company has done no work there in nearly 3 months but is using the trailer parking lot as a storage facility.

Milwaukee County Parks has CLOSED the South Shore launch ramp after spending all that WaterWays grant money in 2017 to renovate everything but the launch ramp. Worse yet is that piss-poor engineering for that renovation has caused a massive sand deposition problem in the launch ramps that requires weekly sand removal by Milwaukee County. Even when the ramp was open last summer, it would frequently be so clogged with sand that tow vehicles were getting stuck all the time. 

This is the same lousy engineering that screwed up the design of Bender Park launch in the 1990's. There is a high level of arrogance among the engineering teams who work for Milwaukee County. No one is going to tell them anything-after all, they have a DEGREE! Before Bender Park launch ramp was built, Milwaukee County was warned that the design would result in rapid sand build-up necessitating regular dredging. 

The high water and broken down outer break wall necessitated the closing of South Shore launch ramps this year. If the launch piers had been installed, they would have been completely destroyed during high NE winds in an early June storm. 

I feel it is important for EVERY launch ramp user in Wisconsin, especially those of us who use Milwaukee County launch ramps to keep the heat on government officials who are charging us high launch ramp fees and not providing the maintenance or services that those high fees require.

In it's yearly launch ramp operations form that it files with WDNR, Milwaukee County Parks department certifies that:

1. An attendant is staffed at each launch ramp during normal hours of operation. 

2. Restroom facilities are open for launch ramp users when fees are being charged.

3. The launch facilities are deep water Great Lakes facilities capable of launching larger boats.

4. Other amenities such as boat washes & fish cleaning facilities are available to launch ramp users. 

Laughing yet??? It's no joke. Milwaukee County charges for everything it can, but provides the most minimal services possible. Why? Nobody in the WDNR will enforce the laws. If this continues to be allowed in Milwaukee County, boat launch users around Wisconsin will see higher fees and less services as well.

Though a HUGE revenue producer for Milwaukee County ($250,000+), the top echelon of Parks department managers views boaters with scorn. It took nearly a month of phone calls and emails to get a Porta Jon put back at Bender launch, though every golf course and dog park has at least 2. 

The only way for Milwaukee County boat launch ramps to improve is for users themselves to complain, complain, and complain to Milwaukee County Executive & Milwaukee County Supervisors about the conditions at the launch ramps. Until there is some real heat on the Parks department to provide the services it charges every launch ramp user, top level Parks department managers will continue to make launch ramp operations a VERY LOW priority in staffing and maintenance operations.

7/17/20 @ 10:05 AM
MEMBER since 6/15/01

FishOn7 ... sent you a msg

7/13/20 @ 10:32 PM
User since 7/5/11

Ports potties and stumps with seats screwed to then is how come I carry a shovel with me, even in Milwaukee.

 Especially in Milwaukee.

7/13/20 @ 6:51 PM
User since 12/22/04

complaining about porta potties?   I found a toilet seat screwed to a hollowed out stump on a Canadian Shield lake island if you are looking for higher standard of accommodations.   

7/13/20 @ 10:53 AM
gray fox
gray fox
MEMBER since 2/22/08

This topic is so right.  I go down to Bender Park almost every day.  the porta potti picture is spot on.  GROSS!!!!!  The parking lot is littered with garbage almost everyday.

It took me 2 months to get the Milwaukee County Parks to put up the American Flag down by the launch.  2 months of calling and emailing.  Something as simple as that, and they couldn't handle that.

7/13/20 @ 9:08 AM
User since 6/20/13

Well done and articulated.. I fish out of Port Wash. and usually go out of Algoma with a buddy in August so I never use Milw. but it certainly looks like you have done your research.  Good suggestion to get information to Paul Smith/Milw Journal.  Some disagree with his politics but he does truly seem to support issues that impact the average sportsman.  And yes folks using Milw should demand better from the County/Govt'. 

7/12/20 @ 6:21 PM
MEMBER since 7/7/04

Yea, but they have a trolly car. Keep voting this same party in and you will see no improvement. They have been there for over 100 years. Too bad the state is going to go down the same path.

7/12/20 @ 2:56 PM
User since 7/5/11

Yes. In the movie version everybody stops paying to launch and keep on launching anyways. After going to court over the parking tickets, the judge, played by Martin Sheen, decrees that you cannot charge to launch at an improperly and illegally opertated public launch. 

In real life, we all just keep quiet and suck it.

7/12/20 @ 12:55 PM
User since 12/22/04

Is there a movie version of this post?

7/12/20 @ 12:47 PM
User since 5/14/17
In my original post, I omitted the actual Wisconsin laws governing publicly operated boat launches. 

According to Wisconsin administrative code:

Since the early 1990's, all publicly owned & operated boat launches must use ALL revenues (launch fees) collected solely for the operation, upkeep, and maintenance of the launch facility.... also, if a launch facility charges patrons for a service (attendant, bathrooms, etc...) then it must provide the service.

Launch ramp operation are probably the MOST profitable part of the entire Milwaukee County parks operations; (revenue generated/operation cost) For years, Milwaukee County has collected between $150,000 up to $300,000 per year on launch fees. Until fishermen united in 2011 to pressure the County to improve the launch piers, most of those launch fees went to subsidize other non-revenue Parks operations. Things improved for awhile, but the last 5 years or so has seen a severe reduction in Parks' dept operations' funding for staffing at McKinley Marina, and especially South Shore and Bender. In violation of state law, most of our launch fees are once again being used to subsidize other Parks' operations, like wading pools, grass cutting, etc...

As far as the Milwaukee Journal investigating this, not gonna happen. Doesn't fit the liberal editorial narrative of the Journal. In their eyes, we are a bunch of entitled, rich boaters who want decent facilities at the expense of the poor protesters who march daily around Milwaukee County. The Journal is extremely supportive of Milwaukee County government, no matter how stupid their decisions are.

For example, Milwaukee County Executive David Crowley decreed that bathrooms across Milwaukee County Parks are shut down this summer due to fear of Covid-19 spreading. At McKinley Marina, the roundhouse toilets (recently renovated using a Water Ways grant-our excise tax dollars) are closed, and replaced with 8 Porta Jons, that are often literally filled to overflowing with human feces. Bender Park is even worse!! Only 2 Porta Jons were placed at Bender Park. Not nearly enough for the thousands of people who use the beach, boat launch, and picnic areas. These toilets need to be emptied everyday, not once a week, if that. 

Just another insult after paying $20 to launch your boat to see the Porta Jon in the condition of the one at Bender Park this morning. (This is a definite improvement since last week. Last week, both Porta Jons were filled to overflowing with human feces, users literally had to plant their butt cheeks in other users' feces. Welcome to Milwaukee County Parks!!!)

County Parks bathrooms ARE open at all the beer gardens serving the more upscale County residents, because it is an accepted scientific fact that Covid-19 is not spread in bars with flush toilets, only at boat launches and golf courses necessitating the usage of Porta Jons. (sarcasm)

If you live in Milwaukee County, an email or call to your County Supervisor carries much greater weight than the same email or call from a boat launch user who lives outside Milwaukee County. 

If you do call or email, don't buy the standard excuse that every County Supervisor will spew, "the Parks department is broke". Bullshit!! We are paying the highest launch fees in the state. The ONLY thing we are asking is that the Parks department provide the services it is charging us for. Why is that so difficult?

7/11/20 @ 9:03 PM
User since 6/15/01

Spot on the launches for lake Michigan are neglected to say the least. The main marina McKinley only wants to serve the slip renters and Milwaukee yacht club members parking. that portion of the parking and construction is done and being used, the rest of the parking for boaters and their guests is an uncompleted parking lot and half the lot taken up by unused construction equipment. 

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