Some Virginia boat ramp users will now have to pay for the privilege, with the 2020 General Assembly’s House Bill 1604 now in effect. It allows the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (DWR) the right to collect admittance fees on all DWR managed properties, including public waterfront landings.
All users will now have to pay a $4 daily or a $26 annual admittance fee that will allow them access to all DWR facilities in the state. The fee does not pertain to users under 17 years of age, those who posses a valid hunting, freshwater fishing or trapping license, or a current Virginia boat registration.
The DWR website states that the fees will “help meet the increasing demand for outdoor recreational opportunities through land purchases, ongoing maintenance of current boating access sites, construction of new boating access sites, and maintaining more than 225,000 acres that are open to the
public to enjoy.”
A defining moment of public waterfront access in Virginia came back in Feb. 1932 when the General Assembly approved the Byrd Road Act that switched ownership and maintenance of public roads from individual counties to the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT).
In Tidewater Virginia, many of these roads ended at the waters edge on deep-water creeks and rivers. Since colonial times these “end of road landings” had been used as commercial sites in the tobacco trade, and evolved over time as steamboat, schooner and buyboat landings.
Those same VDOT landings today play an important role in the region’s tourism and in recreational boating. Unpowered motor boats including canoes, kayaks, paddle-boards, small sail boats and sailboards have been allowed to launch at no cost to users.
Over time DWR started leasing, managing and maintaining some VDOT owned boat landings and until January 1, 2021, general public admittance to VDOT owned/DWR managed public landings had been free to the public.
Virginia’s federal recreational boaters fuel tax allotment helped DWR fund the building and maintenance of some of the best user friendly public boat landings in the state.
Not every locality, however, is happy with the admittance fee. Northumberland County, Va. planning director Stuart McKenzie said the county recently agreed to partner with DWR to build a canoe and kayak launch landing and fishing pier on the Great Wicomico River, underneath Tipers Bridge.
“We are trying to find ways to encourage visitors to come and enjoy our amazing rivers and creeks here in Northumberland,” said McKenzie. “This fee is just one more hoop that visitors will have to jump through to utilize our waterfront.”
McKenzie said DWR Conservation Officers will enforce the fee by making routine visits to the sites. “You might go there (to a landing) five or six times and not get caught but eventually one will come by and check you,” said McKenzie. “If you are like me, you don’t want to take a chance on getting a ticket.”
Using a facility without a permit could result in a court summons and a $50 fine. For more information, visit the DWR website or call 1-866-721-6911.