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ELLSWORTH, Maine — The Maine Department of Conservation is seeking bids for construction of a public boat launch on Branch Lake, a facility that will provide public boat access to the main portion of the lake for the first time in more than a decade.
According to George Powell, director of boating facilities development for the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, the state has wanted to put a boat ramp on the main body of the lake ever since Hanson’s Landing was closed in 1999 and the boat ramp there was closed to the public.
“We’ve been trying to provide equitable access,” Powell said. “There is a city-owned area on Mill Pond at the southern end of the lake, but you have to go under a causeway bridge [to reach the main part of the lake]. That prohibits anything but a low-profile boat from getting into the lake, especially at high water.”
The lake has healthy populations of brown trout and lake trout, but without equitable public access, the state discontinued stocking salmon in the lake in 2000.
The city of Ellsworth initially was opposed to the construction of the boat ramp on Branch Lake which also serves as the city’s water supply. But after years of discussion, collaboration and cooperation between the city and the state, which included a number of city ordinance changes and changes to the proposed boat ramp, including its location, city councilors last year signed onto the project which quickly won planning board approval.
With the promise of a boat ramp, the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife began stocking landlocked salmon last spring.
“We’ve stocked it for the past two years with 1,350 salmon, 8-to-10-inches long, 1-year-olds,” said Gregory Burr, an IF&W fisheries biologist.
Anglers already have begun catching some of the first batch of salmon, which have reached lengths of 15-16 inches.
“That’s good growth for 2-year-olds,” Burr said. “People are excited. Anglers are pleased that the salmon are back in Branch Lake.”
Burr said the department plans to live capture some salmon this fall to check on age, growth and condition to determine whether officials need to increase or decrease the number of salmon they stock in the lake.
The boat ramp will be constructed on a portion of the 1,217 acres the state owns on the western shore of Branch Lake, north of the Narrows and near the Maine Department of Conservation’s existing sand beach. According to Powell, the estimated $500,000 project involves creating a 20-foot concrete plank ramp with boarding floats, a parking area that will accommodate 25 vehicles with trailers, including a handicapped accessible site. It also will include construction of a boat wash station, staffed by a city employee who will check all boats for invasive aquatic species. The project also includes construction of a new, 6,000-foot gravel road from Happytown Road to the launch site.
Powell said bids are due July 13 and the project is scheduled for completion on Nov. 18. He said the boat ramp would not be open this fall, but would open to the public next spring.