Sistersville aims to make ferry a tourist attraction
The iconic Sistersville Ferry will officially open for the season on Sunday, March 25 to transport people across the Ohio River. If the Sistersville Ferry Board has anything to do with it, the historic vessel that serves the city and motorists on the Ohio side of the river, will double as a tourist attraction by the end of the season.
“Not only is the ferryboat convenient for the people who live and work in this area, but it’s fast becoming a tourist destination for people traveling through our area,” remarked Sisterville Mayor Dave Fox. “We’ve had people from other countries come here to ride out ferry.”
Last spring the ferry faced financial difficulties, and the operation was in serious danger of closure. Similar issues, coupled with unplanned repairs, forced the temporary closure of the ferry in early fall, but an emergency grant procured from the State of West Virginia by Sen. Jeff Kessler (D-Marshall) provided much-needed funding to keep the ferry afloat.
The council, mayor and the board hope those days are over.
Recently, the state allocated $100,000 to underwrite operations for the Sistersville Ferry. Fox commented, “The State feels the ferryboat is something we need to keep. I do too. Its been here forever, it needs to stay here.”
Last year, the Sistersville Ferry also benefited from a grant awarded by the Federal Highway Administration. The grant application was submitted by the WV Department of Transportation in cooperation with the Tyler County Development Authority provided $85,600 for improvements.
“This was the third consecutive year an application for funds from the U.S. D.O.T. ferry boat grant program had been submitted by the TCDA through the WV D.O.T. I am very pleased that this time, it seems, persistence paid off,” said Eric Peters. executive director of the TCDA.
“I certainly want to acknowledge the support have we received in this effort from WV Secretary of Transportation Paul Maddox, as well as from Rob Watson and his WV D.O.T. Planning Division staff.”
“While these funds must be dedicated to boat maintenance and improvements, along with enhancement of the ferry boat landing, the grant will allow income from passenger fares to be directed at payroll, insurance and fuel expenses, instead of the occasional unexpected repair expense,” Peters added.
Funding can be used for improvements on either side of the Ohio River.
“Continued operation of the Sistersville Ferry is important to our county’s economic and community development as a vital transportation link and tourist attraction. The TCDA certainly recognizes that. That’s why the TCDA’s support of efforts to keep the ferry in operation are ongoing. We plan to continue to work with the Sistersville Ferry Board and Mayor Fox to that end,” Peters stated.
A grant application for the new fiscal year has already been submitted, according to Peters. “The funds will be used mostly for maintenance and continued repairs on the ferry landing,” he stated.
The ferry employs two pilots, Ed Mars and Donny Villono, and several deck-hands. The newly appointed Ferry Board oversees the operation on behalf of the city. The members include Charles Winslow, Terry Wiley, Phil Konopacky, and Carman Sillaman.
Monday, the crew and the board met with Sistersville Fire Chief Steve Leasure to run through a series of safety tests to ensure they are ready for opening day.
Aside from solid funding, more safety precautions, and a new board, the Sistersville Ferry operation hopes to expand their horizons with advertisements. Winslow noted that billboards have been purchased with the goal of making the vessel a tourist destination. “It’s good for business,” he commented. “It brings people to town.”
The hours of operation are Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. until 6 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. The fare from either side of the river is $4 per car, $3 per motorcycle, $1 per walk-on and $15 per heavy truck.
For more information on the Sistersville Ferry, call the City Building at 304-652-6361 or the boat phone at 304-771-9731.