Fresh concrete gleamed as though bleached beneath the feet of dozens of people at the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission’s Hampstead Boating Access Area. Fourteen-year-old Walter Bell, 13-year-old Juston Bell and 13-year-old Robert Earl Best waited patiently to be first to launch as visiting dignitaries and fans of the ramp attended a ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, May 18.
The North Carolina Public Access Foundation donated $500 to the construction of the new ramp.
Mark Hamlett, the Commission’s Design Services Section Chief, kicked off the ceremony. He said the ramp culminated two years’ effort.
“The Wrightsville Beach Ramp is 17 miles away and is the busiest in the state,” he said. “The Surf City Ramp is five miles away. In 2009, we came across this property and worked with Pender County Manager Rick Benton and County Commissioner David Williams to acquire it,” he said. “It took nine months for permits and six months for construction. The land cost was $2.8 million and it cost $650,000 for construction of the three ramps, docks and the parking area. $40,000 came from the state’s WAMI fund (Waterfront and Marine Industry Fund) and $250,000 came from coastal fishing licenses. The rest came from boat registration fees. It was paid for by its users and is a great partnership between local and state governments and agencies.”
Land acquisition took 18 months and construction took six months. People had been begging for a boat ramp in the area more than a decade.
“I’ve been a county commissioner for ten year and its something I’ve been promoting and hearing about all of that time,” said David Williams. “There have been highs and lows.”
Rep. Carolyn Justice said she had taken heat over supporting a recreational saltwater fishing license in the legislature.
“I’ve been hearing about the need for a ramp in this area throughout my 10 years as a legislator,” she said. “Along the way, I got beat up over a coastal fishing license. But revenue from the fishing license helped pay for this ramp.”
The ramp is located in an area with an astounding amount of boating, fishing and hunting activity according to Master Wildlife Officer Doug Jones, who lives two miles away. His 21-foot Parker center console with its green and gold Commission decal was in the launching lane.
“This ramp is between Wrightsville Beach and Surf City, but it’s the only ramp on the mainland side of the waterway,” Jones said. “We anticipate it will be just as busy as the Wrightsville Ramp. We enforce any laws regarding boating safety, as well as anything pertaining to Commission ramps. This ramp will be another place to focus our law enforcement efforts.”
The teenager trio waited until the host of dignitaries to cut a green ribbon to pieces. As it fell, the elder Walter Bell backed the boat toward the water. His sons had paid for the 14-foot johnboat, but it was registered in his name because they were too young to have technical ownership. Walter and Juston Bell had saved $400 money to buy boat.
“They blew up their first engine on Saturday,” he said. “I helped them buy the used 15 horsepower Evinrude that’s on it today so they could be first to use the ramp. I make them stay between certain navigation markers in case they get into trouble. That way, all it takes is a cell phone call and I can come out to help them in my boat.”
The teenage trio had been using a nearby ramp owned by Best’s grandfather. They said they enjoyed going fishing, but were just going to go for a ride today.
“We like catching drum, trout and flounder,” Best said. “We’ve been fishing together for so long, we feel like we’re all brothers.”