From Sink to Swim: Sport Fish Restoration Dollars Help Fund World-Class Boating Facility

The Bass Anglers Sportsman Society’s Bassmaster Classic is to professional bass fishing as the Super Bowl is to professional football. Large cheering crowds, lights, and blaring music.  It’s a spectacle to behold.

You can imagine the excitement of folks in Anderson County, South Carolina, when poor fishing conditions and low water levels at a lake set to host the 2008 competition in another part of the country unexpectedly forced the Classic to relocate to their local fishing hole – Lake Hartwell.

Matt Schell, who manages the Anderson County Parks Department, remembers the 2008 Classic vividly. An avid angler himself, on the big day, he was ecstatic.  Before sunrise he headed to the Lake Hartwell dock before sunrise, ensuring he had a prime spot for viewing the trophy bass caught by Bassmaster Classic competitors.

When he arrived, something wasn’t right.  His feet were getting soaked. The dock was sinking. Schell realized the crowd was too big for the dock to handle.

Sinking docks. Inadequate viewing space. Insufficient availability of boat docking. Things were clearly not going quite as planned.

“There has to be a better way to attract this type of tournament and host this event,” Schell remembered thinking.

Thus, Green Pond Landing was born.

Building an Icon

Using Geographic Information Systems, 13 sites on Lake Hartwell were evaluated to find the best location for a high-capacity boat ramp.

Green Pond Landing was a standout. For starters, Green Pond allowed the design and construction of a facility that would still reach the water should a drought occur. It’s also centrally located on Lake Hartwell, allowing easy access to different lake sections and satisfying anglers’ preferences for fishing locales.

After settling on a location, the design of the facility started to take shape. It would include three concrete launch ramps each 276 feet long. There would also be a floating courtesy dock. The cost: $2.8 million.

Some funds were available through a variety of different funding sources, but they were not enough to make the vision reality.  A coalition of potential partners started pooling resources and introducing Schell to other funding possibilities. Ross Self, chief of freshwater fisheries for South Carolina’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR), suggested Schell explore the Sport Fish Restoration program.

Funded through excise taxes on fishing tackle and motorboat fuel, Sport Fish Restoration funds are administered by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. They help pay for fisheries management and research, boat ramps and docks.

The program pays 75 percent of the costs of a project with states providing the rest. The Green Pond project was awarded $750,000. Using state water recreation funds, DNR chipped in $250,000. With other funding already earmarked for Green Pond from other sources, the project could move forward.

Ground broke on the project in May 2012, and Green Pond had its grand opening in December 2014. Fittingly, two months later, the first event to launch out of the new facility was the 2015 Bassmaster Classic.

Green Pond turned out to be the perfect facility for the 2015 event, and things went much more smoothly than in 2008. But there is always room for improvement.

Construction on Green Pond Landing began again, investing more Sport Fish Restoration funds when Anderson County expanded the docks.

The Classic returned to Green Pond in 2018 and, yet again, inspired further improvement.

Green Pond kept drawing the Classic back to South Carolina.  By the time the event returned for the third time to Green Pond in 2022, and the fourth time to Lake Hartwell, Sport Fish Restoration grants and matching funds had expanded the docks, including a large weigh-in dock.

“Every year when the Classic has returned, it has come with a huge tie to Sport Fish Restoration investment,” Schell said. “Sport Fish Restoration is completely woven into the fabric of Green Pond Landing.”

Looking to the Future

Since opening, Green Pond Landing has generated an estimated $100 million in economic impact for Anderson County and put the area on the map as a prime fishing destination.

As fishing has expanded, bait and tackle shops have opened. New boating dealerships have popped up, and existing shops have expanded.

Today, Green Pond Landing is known as the model for bass fishing tournament facilities.

“We’ve received inquiries and requests for assistance, leadership, or guidance from folks building similar facilities,” said Schell.

Green Pond Landing, to Schell, is one of the top three fishing facilities in the country.

To date, approximately $8.6 million has been invested into Green Pond.   Schell notes, they still have ideas on how to continue improving the facilities for anglers.

“It’s been a ride, and it continues to pick up steam.”

Fishing tournaments with anglers of all ages and abilities routinely launch out of Green Pond. It is set to host 44 fishing tournaments this year and is ready to take more should the opportunity arise.

Schell says there are plans to apply for more Sport Fish Restoration grants for more dock expansions and other improvements.

“There is no better project in my eyes to show what Sport Fish Restoration has done for us in the state of South Carolina,” says Schell. “Sport Fish funds have played a critical role in the development and construction of Green Pond.”

 – Lanier Clegg, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service