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Good news, bad news: Chester Frost Boat Ramp Closes for Replacement

The popular Chester Frost Boat Ramp in Hamilton County, TN will be closed for up to eight weeks while the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency replaces and improves the existing ramp. It is part of the Bill Dance Signature Lake marketing effort sponsored by the Tennessee Dept. of Tourism. (Photo: Richard Simms)
The popular Chester Frost Boat Ramp in Hamilton County, TN will be closed for up to eight weeks while the Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency replaces and improves the existing ramp. It is part of the Bill Dance Signature Lake marketing effort sponsored by the Tennessee Dept. of Tourism. (Photo: Richard Simms)
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Area boaters and fishermen are going to have to do without Chickamauga Lake's most popular boat ramp for 6-8 weeks. The Chester Frost Park Boat Ramp is undergoing major repairs and improvements.

Most area anglers say, "It's about time."

In recent years it is likely that there have been tens of thousands of dollars in damage done to boat trailers at the Chester Frost ramp. It occurs when winter water levels fall exceedingly low and boaters unfamiliar with the potential danger back trailers off of a sheer drop-off. Props were also being damaged by rocks piled near the ramp's end.

Two years ago, with the encouragement of then-commissioner Tony Sanders, Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency (TWRA) engineers performed temporary repairs. They knew the work was just a short-term band aid, however, Hamilton County Park officials said they had a plan in place to perform permanent repairs.

Two years ago, former Hamilton County Parks and Recreation Director Tom Lamb said, "More often than not we find ourselves with more projects than funds. But because of COVID we actually have some funds available that we can dedicate to this specific project. It's been a problem way too long."

No additional work has taken place, however, until now. Officials shutdown the boat ramp Tuesday (Feb. 7) for massive repairs and improvements. It is bittersweet watching TWRA rip up the old ramp, but knowing whatever comes now will have to be better.

Although Chester Frost Park is a Hamilton County Parks and Recreation property, the county is not leading the charge on any of the improvements. Boaters and fishermen have TWRA and the Tennessee Dept. of Tourism (TDT) to thank, as well as famous angler Bill Dance, at least in part.

Chickamauga Lake is one of 18 lakes across Tennessee designated as a Bill Dance Signature Lake (BDSL) and Chester Frost is the official boat ramp. The impetus and funding for the massive boat ramp, courtesy docks and parking lot improvements have come largely courtesy of that designation.

The BDSL is a massive marketing effort by the TDT. Dennis Tumlin, now Chief Customer Officer for TDT, was also the brains behind the marketing effort that turned Dayton into "BassTown USA" when he worked for Rhea County. Tumlin is being assisted by Bobby Wilson, the former Executive Director of TWRA. Wilson now serves as Senior Special Advisor for TDT on the signature lakes effort.

Tumlin said, "When we first sat down to talk to Bill Dance about putting his name on our signature lakes, he said, 'If it's only a marketing plan, I don't want to be involved. If you're truly committed to the work, I'm on board."

Tumlin said Dance wanted each of those lakes to have a world class launching point.

"Each lake is going to get extra care above and below the water," said Tumlin.

He said to-date $15.4 million has been budgeted for improvements on the 18 signature lakes.

Wilson is the man mostly responsible for already turning Chickamauga Lake into a national destination lake for bass anglers. In the year 2000, Wilson was Chief of Fisheries for TWRA and it was largely his idea to begin the Florida bass stocking effort that has turned Chickamauga into a famous big-bass lake.

Wilson says thanks to the BDSL efforts, substantial funding will go toward permanent fish attractors being placed in Chickamauga. He says planning is still underway, however, for the exact number of structures and their placement. Similar work is already underway on other lakes across the state.

Most importantly for boaters, however, will be the ability to launch their boats at Chester Frost without fear of doing thousands of dollars in damage to their trailers or boat.

The down side is that fishermen won't be able to launch at the incredibly popular ramp for a projected 6-to-8 weeks. Tumlin said he hoped the exact time MIGHT be shorter than that, but they built in time for likely weather delays that are impossible to predict.

Jay McClellan, TWRA Chief Engineer said, "I have zero confidence that we'll finish by the first of March. By the end of March, I'm about 85 percent confident."

McClellan said in addition to extending the ramp, he plans to widen the ramp to three 15-foot lanes so three boats should be able to easily launch at the same time.

He said improvements to the ramp will cost $75-$100,000. They have also budgeted at least $75,000 for improvements to the courtesy docks plus $175-$200,000 for a new combination fishing & tournament pier.

Once all that is completed McClellan said they also hope to add at least 50 boat/trailer parking spaces to the existing 100 spaces.

"Of course, the Signature Lakes project is driving much of this," said McClellan. "But it's also partly fulfilling a promise I made to former Commissioner (Tony) Sanders I made two years ago."

Tumlin said last year TWRA almost doubled the Florida bass fingerlings stockings in Chickamauga because of the Bill Dance initiative. He added that Bill Dance is actually providing a third-party biologist who will essentially act as an independent auditor, overseeing all the fisheries work on the signature lakes.

February and March are prime crappie fishing months and many anglers love fishing Dallas Bay beside the Chester Frost Ramp. Many crappie anglers will never crank their outboards. They simply launch their boat, drop the trolling motor and start fishing at the ramp.

Don't plan on being able to do that until late March, at best. You're going to have to reach Dallas Bay by water from another launch location.

So where can fishermen and boaters launch during the Chester Frost ramp closure?

By water the nearest public ramp is at Harrison Bay State Park or the Wolftever Creek Ramp, both located on the opposite, or east side of the lake. But if you live on the west side of the lake, it is a long drive to get there.

The nearest public ramp on the west side of the lake is the Holly Park Ramp, a 15–20-minute drive north of Chester Frost in Soddy Creek. However, Holly Park only has about 25 designated trailer parking spaces.

There are no public ramps on the west side of the lake going south toward the dam. Many boaters will be best served by using the Chickamauga Dam Ramp near Erwin Marine or going up Hwy. 58 to use Booker T. Washington, Wolftever or Harrison Bay State Park ramps.

Dillon Falardeau, a fishing guide and owner of Talkin' Tackle, located minutes away from Chester Frost, said, "Short term, this will be a little stressful for all of us, including our tackle shop, but long-term this is a huge win for the area."

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Of course, all of the other boat ramps on the south end of the lake are likely to be busier than normal due to the Chester Frost ramp closure. So, just grit your teeth, take your patience pills and think ahead to the days when Hamilton County's most popular boat ramp will be bigger, safer and better in many ways.

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