The water is neither wide nor deep here at the intersection of Madison and Fayette counties, but you still can't drive a car through it.
That's a problem many drivers now face with the reduction in operating hours and days for the Valley View Ferry, in service since 1785.
U.S. Rep. Andy Barr has introduced a bill that might alleviate the bind of federal regulations in which the ferry finds itself, but relief could be months away.The Kentucky River is only 11 to 12 feet deep here most of the time. The ferry runs about 100 yards on a fixed course, and has been open 14 hours a day during the week and 12 hours on the weekends.
Running the ferry requires two employees — a captain and a deckhand. There's nothing easy about their work. Commuters come by the hundreds each day, and tourists come by, too, for a quick ferry ride and a picture of where the river bends around a woody curve nearby.
For the employees, the job is intense. The metal surface of the ferry heats up in the sunshine, reflecting burning rays onto a crew that has little shade in which to huddle. The license plate number of each vehicle crossing, as well as its direction, must be recorded.
On Tuesday, a silver ragtop Mercedes from Wisconsin made the trip as did a couple from Georgia. They brought their grandson, who had never ridden on a ferry. By the time one flock of cars was deposited in Madison County, another set waited on the Fayette County side.
Since 2006, Valley View ferry captains have had to meet a specific set of Coast Guard regulations. One of the ferry's captains retired last week, leaving only one in charge and another in training.
Will Horn, the sole captain, may work 12 hours at a time. Horn, 64, has worked at the ferry for 22 years.
More than 400 vehicles were ferried across on Sunday, June 23, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., and 193 vehicles from 6 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. on Monday, June 24, Horn said.
Closing the ferry on weekends will be a problem for people such as Willie McCuddy, who lives in Madison County but attends Nicholasville Christian Church. Instead of a 28-mile round trip, he is now looking at an 80-mile round trip.
"There are people who live on different sides of the river who also have social connections like us, who used to live in Nicholasville," McCuddy said.
Todd Richmond uses the ferry during the week and on weekends. He and a group of fellow Harley-Davidson riders will miss using the ferry.
It's too bad that the reduction of hours wasn't addressed before now, Richmond said. "I speak for a lot of the Harley people. They love that route," he said.
William Redington, a National Guardsman and Eastern Kentucky University student who uses the ferry to travel between Richmond and his home in Nicholasville, said the trip would now take him an additional 20 minutes.
George Dean, vice chairman of the Valley View Ferry Authority, anticipates hearing from lots of disaffected customers who have come to depend on the free service. Having to close promptly at 6 p.m. means those left in line on either side will not be able to cross as planned, he said.
"We feel like the (Coast Guard) regulations are overbearing because our ferry is attached to a cable, there is no steering and we don't have any combustible materials," Dean said. "There's no danger to the passengers."
Barr has introduced the Valley View Preservation Act, a bill aimed at restoring full service to the ferry operation, "to prevent commuters from losing their jobs or being disrupted in commuting to or from work and prevent any disruption to the local economy."
He said the bill — which would allow the Coast Guard to inspect the ferry for safety but turn over responsibility for its employees to the Kentucky state government — would relieve "a one-size-fits-all federal regulation that really defies common sense" and requires ferry captains to meet the same standards as captains operating much more complicated watercraft.
Although Barr said the legislation was neither complex nor controversial, he said he thought it nonetheless would take several months to pass and take effect.
New hours for Valley View Ferry
The weekday schedule is 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. The ferry is closed on Saturdays and Sundays.