Long after the early morning fishermen have slipped their boats into the water, Boothes Landing starts to perk up.
The pleasure boaters bustle to fill the half-acre gravel parking lot, and families file in for a picnic or swim off the county docks.
Out of a tour bus pours a stream of people headed for a day on the Spokane River Queen.
The tiny park and boat launch, donated to the county decades ago by John Boothe, is busier this summer than it’s ever been.
“I walk most mornings and run,” said Ellen Delavan, who lives adjacent to the boat launch. “At times, I’ve counted many more cars here than at Higgens Point.”
Higgens Point is at the far end of Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive (the old highway), where a new and improved boat launch with ample parking awaits the boating public. Rebuilt last year, the ramp is wide enough for two boats to launch at once.
But since the state Parks and Recreation Department starting charging a $2 user fee at the boat ramp, some people are making a U-turn and heading back to Boothes Landing where they can launch for free.
Ironically, Higgens Point was improved to lessen the congestion at other area boat ramps.
Boothes Landing is about a mile west of Higgens Point, down a twisting narrow road that serves a few homes and the Delavan’s marina.
“You can get in maybe 10 cars with trailers, then they start stacking up in the road,” said sheriff’s Marine Deputy Kevin Mumford. “If we needed to bring in emergency vehicles, it’d be pretty difficult.”
On Thursday, Coeur d’Alene native Roger Orr was launching his power boat with friend Steve McCabe. He’s used Boothes Landing since he was a little kid, he said. Now, he never goes there on the weekend.
“We can’t do it on the weekends,” Orr complained. “All the Washingtonians come here because they don’t want to pay $2.
“It’s Washington, Washington, Washington, Washington,” he said, pointing around to license plates in the small lot. “Why don’t they start charging Washingtonians at Third Street (boat launch), like Ray Stone said?”
Coeur d’Alene’s former mayor, Stone, did support a boat user fee for Spokane residents in 1989.
For now, the Third Street launch is free, but the city and county are considering a user fee next year. Before considering a two-tiered fee, the proposal would have to pass legal review, officials said.
To reduce congestion at Boothes Landing, neighbor John MacPhee wrote the state and suggested charging a user fee there, too.
The landing is the county’s responsibility, however. The county has no plans to charge user fees at its facilities - with the exception of Third Street boat launch, where paid parking is already enforced by the city.
“We’re not set up to charge fees,” explained Sandy Emerson, chairman of the county’s waterways advisory committee. “There’s nobody on staff who does that.”
Emerson said the county is working with the highway district to post more “No Parking” signs along the roadway to Boothes Landing. Also, the county is seeking grant money to pave boat launch areas.
“You can’t stripe the lots in gravel, so if we’re going to organize the parking part, and if we’re going to tow them, we have to mark it clearly,” he said.
Despite the apparent resistance to user fees at Higgens Point, parkway manager Randall Butt said that on sunny weekends, the place is packed.
He guessed the park has raised about $3,000 since the fees were implemented in April. The $2 fee is good for the entire day.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: YEARLY PASS Boaters can purchase a yearly pass to all Idaho Parks and Recreation boat ramps for $35, or $25 if purchased in January.
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