After the Portage Canal was opened to connect the upper Fox River to the Wisconsin River, it was possible to go from the Green Bay to the Gulf of Mexico. That navigation was made possible on the Lower Fox with the building of 17 lift locks and 2 guard locks between Menasha and De Pere. Lift locks physically carry watercraft between levels. Guard locks (located in Little Chute and Kaukauna) protect the locks from upriver surges and close the flow of water into the navigation channels when repairs are required. Guard locks also allow draining the navigation channel for the winter.
The canal at Portage, between the upper Fox and Wisconsin Rivers, closed in 1951. The locks in the Upper Fox then fell into disuse. In the 1970s, the locks on the Lower Fox were falling into disuse and disrepair. The locks were closed in 1983 and in 1988, the lock at Rapide Croche was sealed to prevent Aquatic Invasive Species (AIS) from entering the Lake Winnebago ecosystem.
Ownership and operation of the locks on the Lower Fox were transferred from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the State of Wisconsin in 2004, although the COE continues to operate the dams.
Under the guidance of the Fox River Navigational System Authority, the locks on the Lower Fox are being restored and returned to operational status. Some are in use now, and eventually, recreational mariners should be able to navigate the Fox River from Rapide Croche to Lake Winnebago by 2017.
Posted by J.R. Manning, June 21, 2017