‘We’re rather stymied’: Tenney Locks closure muddies waters for MSCR pontoons, boaters’ plans

MADISON, Wis.- If you were hoping to get the boat or pontoon out onto the Yahara River between Madison’s 2 lakes for one last summer ride — you’re out of luck. Dane County has closed Tenney Locks for the rest of the year after it was damaged by an electrical storm. 

RELATED: Tenney Locks closed for remainder of 2022 due to mechanical issue

“This year with them being shut it’s going to inconvenience a lot of people,” said Blaise Besant, Volunteer Coordinator for the Madison School and Community Recreation (MSCR) Pontoon Program.  

Besant doesn’t just take people out on pontoon rides, he’s a tender for the locks, so he knows with them shut down, “we’re kind of stymied.”  

According to Dane County Land and Water Resources, storms sometime in August of 2020 or 2021 damaged the locks’ computer system. They discovered the damage on Aug. 25.  

“And it’s a delicate system you are holding back enormous amounts of water you don’t want it opening errantly.”  

They need a servicer to take a look, but according to Besant, “the company that’s going to effect the repairs, it’s my understanding they’re coming from Louisiana.”

For the MSCR pontoons this means for the remainder of the season, all their trips and rentals have to go out on Lake Monona. “So instead of being at Warner Park on Fridays or Goodspeed Pier on Thursdays we’re now operating both of those on the regular schedule at Tenney Park instead,” said Besant.  

“It does limit us in the sense of we like to have the options of where we can go for the weather conditions,” he said. “And if the wind is coming out on the South it can be a little challenging on Monona, where Mendota offers us a sheltered shore along the university.”  

And if water levels rise, they literally can’t fit under the low Willy Street Bridge – an exciting part for Friday’s group on the Yahara River. 

“We’d have a very limited run on the river, we could take people for river runs and that would be it,” said Besant.  

No pontoon trips have been canceled yet, just rescheduled. But Besant says other boaters could have it worse. “It’s also affecting people; it’s common people will go down to like Lake Waubesa to frequent the restaurants there by boat and now they can’t get from Mendota downstream.”  

“I know there are a lot of boaters who store their boats on up at Skipper Buds or other marinas, they count on the locks to get their boats there in the fall when they’re ready to pull them from the water,” he said.  

But he said the county just wants to make sure everyone on the water is safe. “It’s an enormous inconvenience and they know it.”