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Whether on Virginia's Chesapeake Bay, Atlantic Ocean, or the Commonwealth's lakes, rivers or streams, recreational waters are places of solitude, restful settings for picnicking, walking, jogging, sunbathing, swimming, fishing, surfing, boating, sailboarding and camping. With water access being one of the recreation resources in greatest demand throughout the Commonwealth, planning for these various types of water access is a priority. . Boating access users are hunters, bird watchers, anglers, paddlers and powerboaters, wildlife enthusiasts, eco-tourists, conservationists, preservationists. They are every citizen of our great Commonwealth, and many of the visitors are from out of state.

Because much of Virginia's shoreline is privately owned, to meet the growing demands on water resources indicated in the 2006 Virginia Outdoors Survey (2006 VOS), partnerships between private and public landowners are a necessity. In Virginia, water access involves both motorized and non-motorized watercraft, fishing piers, bank fishing, beaches and natural water bodies suitable for swimming, natural area access, places to view the water, as well as water trails and blueways. Virginia outdoor recreation professionals use "water trails" and "blueways" synonymously. These resources follow linear river and stream corridors and often link all these types of water access together.

Water trails and blueways offer an array of recreational opportunities from both the water and the land. Based on the 2006 Virginia Outdoor Survey, more than half of the survey participants felt the most needed outdoor recreation opportunities include public access to state waters for boating, fishing, swimming and beach use. Participation rates for activities involving water access are listed below. Since 1965, fishing has remained a favorite outdoor recreation activity and continues to increase in popularity with each survey. Combined saltwater and freshwater fishing grew 8.7 percent between 2002 and 2006. Over the past five years, kayaking and canoeing has increased more than other water-dependent outdoor recreation activities with a 17.8 percent increase in participation between 2002 and 2006. According to the 2006 Virginia Outdoor Survey, swimming, sunbathing, fishing and boating are respectively the fifth, sixth, seventh, and 10th most popular outdoor recreational activities.

Additional access to Virginia's rivers and streams is necessary to meet water-related recreational demands. To help meet this statewide public access need, lands should be acquired or use agreements arranged. Whenever roads cross water bodies or road improvements are planned, the potential for parking, fishing and boat launches should be evaluated. Appropriate portages designed around dams and other river obstacles are also needed to ensure safe recreational use on waterways.

The DGIF Boating Access Program traverses the Commonwealth providing access to all river systems, the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The program's success is due to its many partners. DGIF owns, operates or cooperates on 219 facilities. These include more than 90 facilities on local property, and approximately 55 sites at bridge crossings and terminated roads at waters edge in cooperation with the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT). These partners also support the boating access program by contributing to the operations and maintenance at certain sites. The remaining sites are owned, constructed, operated and maintained by DGIF. The boating access program has sites located in 84 jurisdictions and on 106 water bodies. These facilities provide 419 launch lanes, 105 courtesy piers, 11 boat slides, 148 river access sites, 62 lake access sites, seven Chesapeake Bay access sites and two Atlantic Ocean access sites. The program has 31 saltwater sites and 188 freshwaters sites. There are more than 248,000 active registered boats in Virginia and on many weekends the facilities are full with overflow parking along the entrance roads. The boating access program provides boat launches for non-power sites along upland rivers and streams and facilities for powerboats on saltwater or open freshwater. For boating access sites and information, see the DGIF website.

The DGIF Boating Access Program works closely with a very important partner- the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. In 1950, Congress passed the Federal Aid in Sport Fish Restoration Act, also known as the Dingell- Johnson or D-J Program. This Act created the Sport Fish Restoration Program administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. The objective of the program is: "To support activities designed to restore, conserve, manage, or enhance sport fish populations and the public use and benefits from these resources; and to support activities that provide boating access to public waters." Since the revenue to support this program is generated from a federal tax on gasoline used to fuel motorboats, the funds from this program can only be used on boating facilities for motorboat access.

While direct participation is limited to fish and wildlife agencies, the general public ultimately benefits. States are reimbursed up to 75 percent of the total project cost. Since 1986, DGIF has invested almost $11 million of Sport Fish Restoration Funds in the development and maintenance of boating access facilities. These funds have been invested to develop 40 sites in more than 35 cities and counties, of which 26 sites provide access to freshwater and 14 sites provide access to saltwater. These 40 facilities provide 78 lanes to launch and retrieve boats and approximately 2,000 spaces to park a vehicle with trailer. DGIF has invested almost $4 million of program funds for the maintenance of approximately 150 boating access sites each year. DGIF has a prescribed process for evaluating and selecting boating access facilities. Some of the criteria used to evaluate sites are: sufficient land control and area to support the facility, water depth, environmental conditions, adjacent land use, terrain and topography, proximity to roads and other access sites, development and maintenance funding, and partners or cooperators. DGIF offers technical assistance to local governments and the general public when building access facilities and boat ramps. Public need for boating access to the waters of our state is growing, and DGIF is continuing to seek, evaluate and select sites to develop.

America's Waterway Watch

America's Waterway Watch is a public outreach program encouraging participants to simply report suspicious activity to the Coast Guard or other law enforcement agencies. America's Waterway Watch encourages recreational users to adopt a heightened sensitivity toward unusual events or suspicious behavior encountered around ports, docks, marinas, river shorelines, reservoirs, beaches and waterfront communities. The Coast Guard and local first responders cannot do the job alone. To report suspicious activity, call the National Response Center (800) 424-8802 or (877) 24-WATCH. In case of immediate danger to life or property call 911 or Marine Channel 16.