By YVETTE C. HAMMETT
Riverview/Gibsonton’s Williams Boat Ramp and Park at the mouth of the Alafia River will close Dec. 1 and reopen approximately 120 days later with new boat ramps and floating docks.
“We are going to completely replace the two double ramps, and we will put in a floating dock system right next to the ramps,” said Jason Chilson with Hillsborough County’s Parks and Recreation Department. He spends much of his days going around to various conservation parks and tracking needed upgrades.
As section manager for conservation parks, Chilson is responsible for keeping track of upgrades for the parks, including the new boat ramps at Williams Park. The current ramps were used to launch about 12,000 boats in 2017.
“Those boat ramps are very tidal, and with the current fixed docks, you may have to step down 5 or 6 feet to get in or out of your boat,” Chilson said. “It will make it more Americans with Disabilities Act accessible and we are also widening them to follow ADA compliance measurements.”
Once the new docks are in, boaters will only have a short step down or up to get in or out of their boats, he said.
The county will use about $750,000 in funding from the Boater Improvement Fund, which is a fund collected through boat registration fees. “We can only use those funds to help improve the facilities boaters are going to use,” Chilson said.
The county will use the parks department budget to replace the roof on the fishing pier at Williams Park. “Once you start tearing some stuff up, you might find other things that need to be done.”
Once Williams upgrades are complete, the county has contracted for upgrades at Ruskin’s Commongood Boat Ramp, which serves 750 to 1,000 launches annually.
There is currently no dock at the Ruskin ramp, so one will be added and the ramp widened.
This is perfect timing for these upgrades, Chilson said. “For one thing, this is when the contractor is available, but also tides are lower, and it’s a lot better time of the year to replace the ramps. Plus, it is our slow season. This is a great time to do it.”
Williams Boat Ramp and Park is the second busiest ramp in the county after the Gandy Boat Ramp.
“It’s a nice spot that kind of puts you in the middle of the bay,” Chilson said. “There is a lot of good fishing nearby, and it is good access to get downtown and access the Hillsborough River.”
There is also quick access to Beer Can Island, a popular spot with local boaters who go there to swim, picnic and listen to music. Egmont Key, located near Fort DeSoto in Pinellas County, can also be accessed by launching at Williams Boat Ramp.
Others use the park to launch kayaks or to fish at the pier and picnic.
“We do know there will be a lot of people looking for an option while Williams Park is closed,” Chilson said. “We encourage them to go to E.G. Simmons Park or Riverview Civic Center for boat ramp access.”