More elbow room at Heller Bar

Bruce King stands on the boat ramp at Heller Bar on the Snake River. The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife expanded the ramp, making it twice as wide. The new section is on the left (downriver) side of the ramp.

HELLER BAR — Those who haven’t launched a jet boat or taken out a raft here since midsummer will find more elbow room on their next visit.

The Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife completed an expansion of the often busy boat ramp early this fall. The $450,000 project that started in August and lasted about four weeks nearly doubled the ramp’s width, to about 60 feet. The agency added to the downstream side of the ramp and expanded the shoulder on the upstream side, creating more room for boaters, especially during the busy summer months when crowding can cause frustrations to build and tempers to flare.

The entire price tag also paid for work completed earlier, such as regrading and graveling the Heller Bar parking lot. Both the ramp and the parking lot require users to hold either a Washington Discover Pass or an access pass from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife.

“It’s 100 percent better than it was. There is 100 percent more ramp here,” said Bruce King, who was using the ramp Tuesday. “It’s a good deal.”

The work also included grading of unpaved areas on either side of the ramp that are often used for temporary boat parking and loading and unloading of crafts.

King, the owner of Kingfisher River Trips, has a cabin near Bear Bar and said the expansion will be welcome in the busy season when rafters are exiting from trips started on the lower Salmon River and jet boaters are both launching and taking out for trips on the Snake and Salmon rivers.

Bob Dice, manager of the Blue Mountains Wildlife Area for the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, said users are pleased with the expansion and other work.

“Everything I have heard has been all positive,” he said. “I haven’t heard any complaints.”

The work was paid for through a grant from the Washington Recreation and Conservation Office.

State wildlife officials at one time hoped to build a second ramp upstream of the existing one. Those plans were protested by steelhead bank anglers, who said the new ramp would ruin a popular steelhead run. Wildlife officials also determined the river was too shallow there. For a short time, they considered placing the ramp near the mouth of the Grande Ronde River where the water is deeper but determined that would be even more disruptive to bank anglers.

Barker may be contacted at ebarker@lmtribune.com or at (208) 848-2273.

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