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Riding the River

Rockin' Thunder takes advantage of
newly opened Kentucky River Locks

Two-day trips being offered from Madison to Frankfort



(July 2015) – The newly opened and repaired Kentucky River Locks and Dams have been a big success since opening on May 22 for the first time since its renovation work started in 2007. The historic locks were built in the 1830s.

The Full 2015 Kentucky River
Locks Schedule

• Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays:
10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m.

• Additional Holiday Lockage Hours: Monday, July 6, 10 a.m. - 7:30 p.m.; Monday, Sept. 7, 10 a.m. – 7:30 p.m.

• Beginning Sept. 11th locking hours Friday-Sunday will move back one hour and will be from 9 a.m. - 6:30 p.m.

• Kentucky River Locks 5-14 are closed until further notice.

• Information: (502) 564-2866

Kentucky river locks Nos. 1-4 are now opened to the public, including Lock 1 (Carrollton), Lock 2 (Lockport), Lock 3 (Monterey) and Lock 4 (Frankfort). The Kentucky River Authority operates Kentucky River locks and dams 5 through 14. It is administratively attached to the Finance and Administration Cabinet.
There are 15 locks total – all owned by the state of Kentucky. The state spent $8 million to get the first four locks open, and they have the potential to open locks 5, 6 and 7. But it is just the cost that prevents them from opening the rest.
The Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat, based in Madison, Ind., was the first commercial boat to make the full trip from Carrollton to Frankfort. The business has been in Madison for three seasons now. The journey included a 5-hour, 155-mile boat ride up river. Beginning in July, once a month, the Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat will be offering the 155-mile Kentucky River Overnight Adventure, which is limited to 12 people.

Photo provided

Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides Capt. Paul Nicholson steers his boat of passengers through one of the Kentucky River Locks in early May to explore and plan public tours that he is now offering patrons.

“We knew the river has been closed for eight years, so we drove up in a vehicle to make sure that we could make the trip and get fuel in Frankfort. Then we realized that the trip would have to be overnight,” said Rockin’ Thunder Capt. Paul Nicholson. He operates the boat and runs the Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides with his partner, Janet Harding. From Madison, the boat will go up river to Carrollton, then through all four locks along the Kentucky River to Frankfort. On stop along the way is historic town of Gratz, Ky., for lunch at the News Café Antiques & Gold Star Bed and Breakfast, provided by Linda and Earl New.
The trip also includes a tour of the Buffalo Trace Bourbon Distillery and a stay in the Capital Plaza Hotel in Frankfort.
“Our goal is to get people into the hotels and stay over night. When people stay here they have to eat and be entertained, which helps restaurants and the shopping districts. Once you get people in Frankfort, then there will be a domino affect throughout the area, which can impact everyone in years to come.”
The Frankfort tourism office has worked on obtaining discounted lodging rates, dining options, and entertainment in Frankfort. They are also working closely with the people of Gratz.
Lucas Soule of Madison owns and operates Eagle Hollow Marina and took a ride up the Kentucky River with Capt. Nicholson in June. He was impressed.
“I have been through bigger locks before, but is very neat seeing how old the Kentucky locks are and how they worked back then. There is so much history there, and it really is amazing to see.”

Photo by Emily Ward

Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides Capt. Paul Nicholson and partner Janet Harding pose at the Madison, Ind., boat ramp, where they offer rides on the Ohio River.

Anybody in any boat could go through the locks. The lockmasters can help the boaters lock through and are always there to assist boaters through the operation.
Nicholson said, “There are many people who have their own boats but want to take a trip on the Rockin’ Thunder tour and learn the lock process from us, then eventually go through the locks in their own boats.’
Harding added: “We anticipate as early as next year maybe will will have a larger boat. We hope to bring people from Frankfort to Madison and have them stay the weekend then bring them back to Frankfort, and vice versa.”
Past Carrollton, the area is so remote that there will probably not be a lot of construction or development along that river because of the flood lines changing so often and the lack of roads to the riverbank, Nicholson said. “This is a spectacular, remote and scenic section of the river that few ever get to see.”
However, a new hunting lodge is being built on the Kentucky River. Nicholson and Harding say they have spoken to the people building the lodge and hope to offer a boat tour and overnight stay with them in the future.
The U.S. Coast guard regulations require boat drivers to have to have a Master’s Captain License in order to haul passengers. Therefore, both Nicholson and Harding attended Captain School in Traverse City, Mich.
Nicholson, an Idaho native, has been boating since he was a little kid. He bought his first boat at age 15 before he even owned a car.
Soule said, “Paul does lots of research and really knows­­ all the history of the locks and he loves to share stories about everything.”
The tour dates of the Rockin’ Thunder boat rides include July 10-11, Aug. 7-8, Sept. 18-19, Oct. 9-10 and Oct. 16-17. The boat fare is $225 per person. The Capitol Plaza Hotel will provide discounted lodging for $89 per room. Reservations are required due to their 12-person limit.

• For more information, call Rockin’ Thunder Jet Boat Rides at (812) 701-1155.

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