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Fox River locks opening Friday

Appleton Lock four on Fox River, May 15, 2018 (WLUK/Eric Peterson)

APPLETON (WLUK) -- In a few days, people will be able to take to the waterways, and travel up and down the Fox River, around the dams, through a system of locks.

The network of 17 locks stretches from Menasha near Little Lake Butte des Morts all the way downstream to De Pere.

But there are some restrictions this year.

At a place called Appleton Lock 4, the gears are greased and ready to work.

"We're anxious to get going. We've hired roughly 26 staff this year to run the locks," said Jeremy Cords, Fox River Navigational System Authority Chief Executive Officer.

The Fox River Navigational System Authority or FRNSA, manages the locks. Cords says the Menasha Lock will be closed again this year. The Department of Natural Resources requested the shutdown in 2015, after the invasive fish called the Round Goby was found downstream.

"We think we're very close to having that figured out. Within the next few months, maybe a year, we should definitely have that hammered out," said Cords.

In Kaukauna, the Veterans Memorial Bridge crosses the navigational channel downtown, but because of low clearance, boats may not make it to five locks downstream.

City officials say the road itself is in good shape, but the bridge lift hasn't worked in decades. The city recently returned an $880,000 grant to the Department of Transportation which would have lessened the $2 million repair cost.

"The aldermen in the Common Council didn't feel it was fair to the citizens of Kaukauna to bear such a heavy burden for that lift bridge to get it operational," said John Sundelius, Kaukauna City Engineer and Public Works Director.

Kaukauna leaders say plans are in place to fix the bridge, but it will wait for guidance from the U.S. Coast Guard.

"The Coast Guard has the authority that would force the city of Kaukauna to get that bridge operational. And they are not taking that action at this time," said Sundelius.

In the meantime, the river authority says there is still a lot of waterway to enjoy.

"I would have to say it's like a jewel. We got a string of jewels that go from Menasha, down to De Pere," said Cords.

The Fox River Locks project began back in 2005.

In 10 years the group spent $14.5 million to restore 16 of the 17 locks on the river.

Plans are in-the-works to open a visitor center in Appleton.

People can expect that to open next year.

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