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Residents believe safety gates hinder boaters, fishers, dippers
By M.K. Luther - firstname.lastname@example.org
FRONT ROYAL -- Residents are asking for access to gates at the low-water bridge on Morgan Ford Road to allow for recreational activities on the Shenandoah River.
Richard Morris, of 137 W. 14th St., told the Board of Supervisors on Tuesday that the safety gates were restricting entrance to both the Shenandoah River and the public boat landing located next to Morgan Ford Road.
"I am a lifelong resident of Warren County and I have dipped [for fish] at Morgan Ford for more than 55 years," Morris said.
Morris said an estimated close to 25 residents still practice the "dying art" of dipping -- using a net to fish in the river. Morris also said the gates hinder boaters and fishers and other residents trying to use the river for sport.
"It is not only dippers, there are quite a few people who fish down there also when the water is high," Morris said.
Morris asked about the possibility of issuing keys for those who wanted to use the river at high water times until a new bridge is installed.
The current 321-foot-long single lane, low-water bridge was originally built in 1925. The Virginia Department of Transportation plans to replace the bridge by 2014 with a 600-foot-long, two-lane bridge that will accommodate increased traffic flow of 1,100 vehicle a day.
Last year, a Stephens City woman died after her vehicle was swept off the low-water bridge into the Shenandoah River.
In response, the county installed gates at both sides of Morgan Ford Road to be used when water levels were high and the low-water bridge was closed to vehicular traffic.
"We only dip when the water is up and muddy," Morris said. "So any time we want to get there, the gates are going to be up."
County Administrator Douglas P. Stanley said that VDOT had both installed the gates and was responsible for maintenance. The board could ask the department about the possibility of issuing keys to residents who wanted access, Stanley said.
Shenandoah District Supervisor Richard Traczyk, who had been instrumental in bringing the gates to the road, said he would ensure all options were investigated.
"I was responsible for gates at Morgan Ford bridge and having them installed by VDOT," Traczyk said. "I will look at what can be done to maintain the tradition of dippers."