Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway

A non-profit organization dedicated to the improvement and preservation of the Fox and Wisconsin Rivers.

Fox Locks

Fox Locks Parkway Package

Travel the waterway built at the turn of the century to create passage from the Great Lakes to the Mississippi. Lock through at the hands of the tender, just as you would have in the early 1900s. Learn why it was built, how it was built, why it failed to be the greatest water highway, and how the locals saved this piece of history.

This package is offered in partnership with Fox River Tours! This is the perfect choice for day and bus tour groups. The package includes a guided tour of Hazelwood Historic Home, a 2 hour cruise onboard River Tyme to include passage through the Lock at Little Rapids, a full lecture by a local historian on the history and future of the Fox Locks System, and a very tasty box lunch.

Hazelwood Historic Home will provide a special, private tour of the home built in 1837 by Morgan L. Martin, an early champion of the lock system and an entrepreneur who lost his fortune because of it.

Then you will make your way to River Tyme, an authentic 1953 riverboat and Fox River Tours will have their First Mate, Second Mate, and Bartender ready to attend to the needs of your tour group. They will start by greeting you in the parking lot and assisting any who need it onboard, and will continue until they say goodbye at the end of the cruise. A wonderful box lunch and full lecture on the history, present, and future of the lock system will augment the beautiful scenery that you will see on this 2 hour cruise. The cruise will include a passage through the Lock at Little Rapids, hand-operated exactly as it was when it was built in the late 1800s.

Please join us for this Fox Locks Parkway Package, we can’t wait to share the experience with you!

Tours are available Mondays and Thursdays — June 1 – September 30 — starting at 11:00 a.m.  They must be pre-booked as a group tour through the Parkway at least 3 weeks in advance.  $54 per person

Contact us for availability 

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General Lock Information

The Fox Locks are found along the Lower Fox River from Menasha to De Pere. The 2016 operating season schedule has not been published by the Fox River Navigational System Authority as of yet. As of 2015, 8 of the 17 locks were operational. Boats could navigate from Lake Winnebago to Little Chute on the South end of the Lower Fox and from Green Bay to Wrightstown on the North end of the Lower Fox River. Due to additional lock restoration projects and bridge projects being completed, etc., it is believed that navigation will be expanded for the 2016 season.

For updated information, please visit Fox Locks.

For those wishing to travel the system on their own:

The procedures and schedule are found below. Note that when planning your trip outside of normal navigation hours, special arrangements must be made with the Fox River Navigational System Authority for getting through the locks and with Canadian National Railroad for opening the railroad bridges and the municipalities for opening the street bridges.

2016 Lockage Procedures

2016 Lock Operation Schedule

2015 Bridge Schedule

For quick reference, here are the phone numbers for each lock and bridge:

CN Railroad Bridge between Lake Winnebago and Menasha Lock – (920) 789-7168
Racine & Tayco Street Bridges in Menasha – (920) 967-3610
Menasha Lock – (920) 202-1857
Little Kaukauna Lock – (920) 227-7043
Olde Oneida & Lawe Street Bridges in Appleton – (920) 832-5580
Appleton #1 & #2 Lock – (920) 750-3306
Appleton #3 & #4 Lock – (920) 750-3307
CN Railroad Bridge between Appleton Lock #3 and #4 – (906) 789-7168
Cedars Lock – 920-750-3309

Special Lockage 12 hour notice – 920-202-1853

About

The locks and dams along the Fox River were completed by the commercial and government interests in the 1850s, and commercial water traffic first crossed the state from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien via the Fox-Wisconsin River system in 1856. The federal government took control of the system in 1872, and the navigational system was maintained and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (COE). The Fox River originally played a major role in regional transportation and commerce, while its hydroelectric dams powered the growth of manufacturing, logging, and paper manufacturing. A century after the opening of the waterway, however, navigation had declined with the advent of railroads and highways. The Upper Fox River locks (Portage to Lake Winnebago) were abandoned by the COE in 1962. Since 1983, when the Corps discontinued the designation of the Lower Fox River to commercial traffic, the federal government has discontinued its operation and maintenance of the locks and placed its property holdings in caretaker status.  Throughout the 1990s, the COE was threatening to fill in the locks and dispose of them, while local and state groups were urging an agreement that would turn the properties over to the state for development as a recreational and historic corridor. Regardless of the disposition of the locks, it was determined that the COE would continue to operate the dams on the Fox River as part of its flood control responsibilities.

The Fox River Navigational System Authority (FRNSA) was created on August 30, 2001 and is responsible for the rehabilitation, repair, replacement, operation, and maintenance of the Fox River Navigational System.  As the rehabilitation of the locks is completed, the Rapid Croche Lock will remain permanently sealed as a barrier to aquatic nuisances, but a boat lift and transfer station will be installed at that site, which will again allow navigation through the entire Lower Fox River Navigational System.

History of Locktenders on the Fox River

The Fox and Wisconsin Rivers are situated between two of the most navigable water routes in the country, the Great Lakes and the Mississippi. Beginning in the 1820s, governmental and private interests began to look at the Fox and Wisconsin rivers as a direct water highway to the west. The strong current and rapids, particularly on the Lower Fox, made boat traffic impossible. The solution was to build a series of locks and canals. Construction began in the 1849 and over 3 decades, 24 locks were constructed on the 162-mile stretch between Portage and Green Bay.

To provide round-the-clock response to boats navigating through the locks, residences were constructed alongside the locks, beginning a long history of men and their families that called these houses home. The lockmaster resided in the house, responsible for all operations of the lock.   Locktenders reported to the lockmaster working the shifts outside the lockmaster’s hours. The locks were operated by hand via a turnstile crank that opened and closed the large lock doors.

Many of the men were employed with the Corps for decades. Nepotism was common with many fathers, sons and brothers also employed in the profession. The job required round-the-clock availability, prompted by the whistle of an approaching barge or boat. Government records were required to document the river, recording the tonnage of boats, number of passengers, weather conditions and river levels. The occupation was exceptionally hazardous with many men risking their lives saving boat passengers or others swept away by river torrents. Tragically, many men lost their lives while performing their duties, several drowning in the lock themselves.

Families adjusted to this unique lifestyle of living in a home adjacent to a lock. Some lock houses were located on an island, accessed only by walking across the closed lock gates. The families took care of the house and property, tending to vegetable and flower gardens. In lean times, boarders were taken in to supplement their income. Children learned to swim in the lock ever mindful of the dangerous river currents. Families came to know the pilots of the working boats, barges and tugs and the many passengers on steamboats and other recreational vessels. Families invited friends and family to their lock “resort” for parties, celebrations and weddings.

With a reduction of commercial traffic due to increased competition from railroads and highways most of the lock system was closed by the 1980s, including all of the locktenders’ houses. However, the two locks at DePere and Menasha have remained in continuous operation under the careful watch of locktenders who continue this time-honored profession.

In 2004, ownership of the lock system was transferred from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to the State of Wisconsin.  Since that time, many of the locks have been restored and are again operational allowing for increased river traffic.  Restoration work will continue, including finding reuses for the eleven remaining lock houses.

The Fox River lock system remains one of the only two hand-operated lock systems remaining in continuous operation in the United States.

The Lockmaster
by S. Watson

If the water level goes up

When it should go down

If the dam gets icy

And the waves begin to pound

There’s one man boaters call on

Who will face each new disaster

There’s no man they like better

Than Howard the Lockmaster.

Poem written for Howard Ratzman – former lockmaster at Little Chute Guard Lock