Lecompton Fritz Menninger was ready to experience a first in his life Saturday afternoon as he and more than 30 other canoeists lined up to enter the Kansas River at Lecompton.
"This is my first time. I've always wanted to go down the river," the Topeka man said.
Before taking to the water, the canoeists and dozens of others took part in a dedication ceremony for the recently opened Kansas River boat ramp. The new ramp is one of several access points planned for the river, with others ready to be built or under consideration in Topeka, Manhattan, Wamego, Junction City and other locations.
"We're just working our way down the river," said Ron Little, regional supervisor of public lands in northeast Kansas for the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks.
"We are thrilled to have this access today," said Laura Calwell, the Kansas Riverkeeper, a nongovernmental river advocate for the group Friends of the Kaw. "It's a beautiful, pristine section of the river."
The new ramp is on land the state purchased from Ralph Rose. It is just west of the Lecompton bridge on the north side of the river in Jefferson County.
"This is all about giving people access to their own river," said Mike Hayden, secretary of Wildlife and Parks, who also attended the dedication. "The more access points there are, the more people will use the river."
Calwell and Hayden think that allowing more people access to the river will lead to better care of it.
"People take care of what they know and understand," Hayden said.
Hayden, however, was critical of the Kansas House of Representatives, which he said had stood in the way of creating access points by taking money away from the projects even though the money was available.
"We have to fight and fight and fight to get (money) restored," Hayden said. "The people of Kansas are entitled to access (the river). They are entitled to enjoy it not only now but in the future."
Hayden and others at the dedication, however, commended one House member, Lawrence Republican Tom Sloan, for his support of the river access plans. They also credited the Senate for supporting the efforts, including Lawrence Sens. Roger Pine, a Republican, and Marci Francisco, a Democrat. Francisco was able to attend the dedication during a break in the special legislative session under way in Topeka.
After the speeches, the crowd gathered along the ramp entrance and took part in the ribbon-cutting.
The dedication was scheduled as part of the two-day Lecompton Territorial Days celebration, which began Friday. Saturday activities for the annual event included a parade, children's games, pioneer skills demonstrations, Civil War plays, an ice cream social and a night concert featuring the musical group Knee Deep.
Territorial Days annually brings an estimated 3,000 to 5,000 people to Lecompton during the two days, said Paul Bahnmaier, one of the organizers.