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Maclean Bottoms boat ramp closed, likely for good

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The Maclean Bottoms boat ramp and picnic area has been closed indefinitely due to significant river erosion. The area is about 15 miles south of Bismarck in the Oahe Wildlife Management Area.

A popular boat ramp on the Missouri River south of Bismarck has been closed due to river erosion that a state official says would be too costly, impractical and dangerous to repair.

The Maclean Bottoms boating access site and picnic shelters are about 15 miles south of Bismarck off state Highway 1804, in the Oahe Wildlife Management Area. Problems at the site date to 2012, when the river channel began eating away at the eastern shoreline, according to Bob Frohlich, fisheries development supervisor for the state Game and Fish Department.

The state spent about $1.5 million that year installing sheet piling walls to protect the riverbank, but the ever-changing river channel has overcome the man-made obstruction.

"The whole river channel is sand, so it's easy to eat away," Frohlich said Tuesday. "It basically ate and eroded down and got to the bottom of those sheet pilings; they started sinking and eventually failed a couple of days ago. (The water) got behind them and started eating away at the parking lot."

The sheet pilings began sinking last year, and Game and Fish sought estimates then on repairing the problem.

"Those were like million-dollar fixes to maybe stabilize it," Frohlich said. "I think we're happy we didn't, because I don't think it would have mattered."

It's unlikely that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which oversees river management, would even approve a repair project at this point, Frohlich added. When the ramp was installed in the mid-1980s, the area was about 3 feet deep, and now "it's 43 feet and a ripping current," he said. "You could die if you went in there."

Frohlich said it's hard to know if the 2011 Missouri River flood -- which swamped the Maclean Bottoms area -- was the root cause of the problem.

"Did it soften it up, did it saturate it? It's possible," he said. However, he added that numerous things including ice or even a tree hung up on a sandbar can alter the river channel, and that "Mother Nature is going to cut and scour where she wants to."

It's possible that the problem could self-correct over a number of years as the river continues to change. Game and Fish plans to continue monitoring the site.

There aren't any suitable spots in the immediate area for a new ramp, Frohlich said, but there are numerous other spots for boaters to launch their craft -- more than a dozen ramps exist between Garrison Dam and the headwaters of Lake Oahe, which encompasses the river area to the north and south of Bismarck-Mandan.

The nearest ramp to Maclean Bottoms on the Bismarck side of the river is Kimball Bottoms, about 7 miles to the north. On the Mandan side of the river, Graner Bottoms is about 4 miles to the north.

Boat ramp usage typically depends on the fishery -- where the fish are biting at any particular time. But the loss of Maclean Bottoms will be felt in the boating community.

"It's always been one of our most popular ramps," Frohlich said. "It wasn't uncommon to see 40 boat trailers there."

Reach Blake Nicholson at 701-250-8266 or blake.nicholson@bismarcktribune.com.

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