Tuesday, May 26, 2009

I believe in ferries

I Believe in Ferries
The history of the Merrimac Ferry goes way back. For more than 150 years, since before Wisconsin was a state, there has been a ferry crossing the Wisconsin River at Merrimac. It began as a toll ferry, first run by a series of commercial operators and then jointly operated by Sauk and Columbia counties. In 1933 the state took it over, and it's been a free ferry ever since. It's called the Colsac -- a phonetic linkage of Columbia and Sauk counties, which it links geographically.

I Believe in FerriesWe took the the Colsac III, launched in 2003, on our Memorial Day afternoon jaunt to Parfrey's Glen. Going north, as we were, the ferry was half empty, but there was a long southbound line on the other side headed home after their holiday weekend.

Today the Colsac mostly a popular tourist attraction and an exercise in nostalgia, since cars can easily fly over the Wisconsin River at 75mph on the Interstate just 12 miles to the east -- as opposed to a 7 minute crossing plus waiting time. There are occasional calls to replace this relic of another time with a bridge, but they've always been rejected so far.
In the early 1960s, when the new full-sized cars had reduced the original Colsac's capacity from eight to six vehicles, complaints about poor service began to pile up.

Studies were made; highway engineers suggested a bridge. But Merrimac had become "Never Never" land as far as bridges were concerned. In true Peter Pan style, residents of Merrimac formed an "I Believe in Ferries" club in protest. The division scuttled its plans for a bridge, and Colsac II went into service in 1963.

Again in 1967, people were certain the ferry was doomed with opening of the new Interstate. Tourists, they reasoned, would rather zip across on the new bridge and ferry traffic would dwindle and die. But they had underestimated the nostalgia factor.

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