LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — Unapproved boat launches at Lake Mead are not allowed – a rule that was highlighted last week when one was found by the National Park Service (NPS) at Echo Bay. That launch was closed by the NPS and blocked.

Buy why doesn’t the government allow regular people to build and use boat launches that are not approved by the NPS? The launches at Callville Bay, Echo Bay, Boulder Harbor, Temple Bar, and South Cove were all closed by the NPS due to the lake’s water level rapidly falling.

Only one approved boat launch was built by and maintained by the NPS remains open. This is the launch at Hemenway Harbor.

Echo Bay

When asked about why the unapproved launch at Echo Bay was closed the NPS wrote:

  • Federal Regulation Codes prohibit the private solicitation of any business or operational services in the park, except in accordance of a contract or written agreement with the Federal Government, which would automatically designate all operations as a commercial service contract. No launch ramps at the park are privately owned and managed, nor are there current or future plans to allow such activities. 
  • As clarified within the park’s 2019 Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI), “The park’s 2005 general management plan amendment identifies that a new ramp would be constructed at South Cove one-half mile south of the existing ramp with parking to allow for continued launching. While slopes may lessen below 1,050 feet at the new location, launching would continue to be authorized at the end of a park-approved road.”

South Cove

There is, however, another boat launch that has been built on the other side of the lake at South Cove, which is near Meadview, Ariz.

According to the NPS, “The primitive launch area at South Cove, approximately 1/2 mile south of the built concrete launch ramp, was approved for development by NPS for continued public access to the water below the concrete launch ramp’s elevation threshold of 1,070′. No such primitive launch area has been approved or developed by the NPS in the Echo Bay area.”

“Locals found a way to the water over rocks in July 2021 for about 120 days when the loader went in the water in late June,” said Randy Glaser who is a liaison between people who use South Cove and the NPS. “NPS had not got to upgrading South cove point yet due to (the) investigation into the loader incident. Meanwhile, word got out the NPS had this area on record as an alternative access but this area was not developed and maintained by locals and never has been. With my help and a few others working with NPS on-site, South cove point is what it is today.”

Lake Mead July 6, 2000 – July 3, 2022 (NASA)

Undisturbed Desert

When 8 News Now published the story on the unapproved Echo Bay launch on Aug. 30 many people asked why the NPS claimed it was on “undisturbed desert.” Several people said the government had already disturbed this part of the desert when it flooded the area to create the Lake Mead reservoir in the 1930s.

The NPS responded to 8 News Now with the following reasoning behind its actions:

  • Undisturbed desert covers a broad swath of area, from terrestrial landscapes to sensitive marine habitats underwater. In 1935 during construction of the Hoover Dam, the Federal Government flooded the area that is now Lake Mead. Due to high water levels and submerged areas, park resources management staff had been unable to conduct or complete surveys to identify, assess and update listings of potentially cultural, historical, archaeological and environmental significant findings in the area. 
  • However, as lowering water levels continue to expose new land acreage, staff can begin to properly classify park lands to modern regulatory standards, including findings that may not have been properly discovered or documented and preserved before the 1930s. Additionally, it is possible that there are significant cultural or historical artifacts under the river bed that were naturally covered by environmental changes to the Colorado River like flow patterns and silt accumulation long before the area was flooded. 

A Push to Reopen Boat Launches

In July, Nevada Senator Jacky Rosen sent a letter asking the Director of the NPS to either reopen Lake Mead’s boat launches or provide updated reasoning as to why it cannot be done.

“The NPS looks forward to responding to the Senator directly. While we do not respond to correspondence through the media, I did want to offer the following information for clarity,” John Quinley of the NPS Communications Support Office told 8 News Now. “Lake Mead NRA continues to speak with community members and local, state and federally elected officials about rapid water level decline and launch ramp accessibility challenges at the park and stakeholder engagement will be a part of our longer-term planning and associated environmental compliance processes. Lake Mead NRA remains committed to providing diverse public recreation opportunities that adapt to climate challenges and provide recreational enjoyment for generations to come.”

Quinley also said, “The NPS has invested approximately $50M to provide ongoing water-based public recreational access to the lake. Many of these investments no longer function as initially anticipated.”

In an interview with 8 News Now Monday, Sen. Rosen said she is not going to let this issue be ignored. “We’re not going to stop talking to them until there is some action, that is my job to pressure them,” Sen. Rosen said. “It is my job to bug them, be persistent, to keep calling, to keep doing everything I can. Because this issue is important to southern Nevada, it’s important to small business, it’s important to all those tourists, it’s important to locals who love the lake, it matters to our economy.”