by Nan Royce
DASSEL, MN David Backes’ idea for a handicapped-accessible fishing pier on Spring Lake, near Dassel, first occurred to him about eight years ago.
Backes, now 85, first had a vision of the project after talking with other senior citizens while volunteering at a local nursing home.
Some residents there really missed being outside, and fishing in particular. Backes could relate. He, too, used to access an entire lake, and fish wherever and whenever he wanted.
“When younger,” Backes said, “I was spry enough to put a boat in the water, and enjoyed teaching my children, grandchildren, and others I care for how to fish.”
The kind of strength and agility needed to captain a fishing boat is something that tends to fade away as people get older.
“Now, at my age,” Backes said, “it is impossible for me to fish from a boat.”
A perfect plan for a primo location
Backes spent many happy hours fishing on Spring Lake. He believes it is an ideal location for a handicapped-accessible fishing pier.
Spring Lake Park is already home to a baseball park, picnic shelters, and handicapped-accessible bathrooms.
The playground equipment is due for an upgrade very soon. The park is surrounded by bike and running paths. The only thing the scenic spot is missing, Backes said, is that fishing pier.
Slow and steady wins the race
Meeker County Commissioner Mike Housman joked that Backes has been pestering him for at least five years about the pier project.
It began to gain additional traction during the past year, due to Backes selling the benefits of the pier to local organizations, the Dassel City Council, and the Meeker County Park Superintendent.
He encountered little resistance to the pier project, but finding funding to actually construct the pier was a totally different story.
Backes said he received generous donations from the Kingston Lions Club, the Red Rooster Days Committee, and the Dassel Rod & Gun Club almost immediately.
After that, Backes began a one-man letter-writing campaign. He literally was sending information about the pier project via the US Postal Service in hand-addressed envelopes. It was tough going, but Backes was determined.
Starting to float
Finally, Housman told Backes that the Meeker County Parks Department could act as the savings account for the pier project. People may now send donations for the pier project to Meeker County Parks, marked “Dassel Fishing Pier,” and donations will go directly into the pier fund.
Housman also suggested that if Backes could come up with the majority of the necessary funds, the county may be able to pay for about one-third of the pier project’s estimated $40,000 price tag.
Housman told Backes that ideally, funding would be equally split among the county, the City of Dassel, and organizational or private donations.
Housman could sweeten that deal even more by offering county services to construct a handicapped-accessible trail leading from the parking lot to the new pier.
Housman told Backes that if the materials for the pier project were purchased from MinnCor, the same company the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources uses, he could enlist the DNR’s services to install, maintain, and if necessary, remove the pier.
Others jump in the boat
Staff of the Enterprise Dispatch kept in contact with Backes after hearing him speak at a Dassel City Council meeting last summer, waiting for the right time to produce an article.
After hearing about Backes’ plan, Enterprise Dispatch staff contacted Dassel’s Kyle Ackerman to inquire about the possibility of adding a more modern twist to Backes’ letter-writing campaign.
Ackerman, a Dassel business owner and a member of the city’s Economic Development team, recently started work on a pier-related informational video, and launched a GoFundMe page.
Ackerman had to laugh when discussing the potential of GoFundMe with Backes.
“I mentioned that I had hoped that GoFundMe would do well for the funding, and David said, ‘Yeah, but I’m pretty sure that my 50 (traditional) letters will do better.’ He’s got a great sense of humor for sure, and it is fun to help someone like David to achieve his goals.”
What kind of pier will it be?
Backes is adamant that the pier extend between 80 and 100 feet into the lake, so people can cast into deep enough water to catch fish.
According to MinnCor’s website, its fishing piers are available in 34 to 104-foot lengths, L-shaped or T-shaped.
The piers include sturdy 2-inch by 8-inch board construction, modular construction with treated pine decking and rails, steel parts that are hot-dip galvanized for long wear, rotation-molded with solid foam-filled floats, and rod mount holes.
That all sounds just fine to Backes, but he’s really more interested in all the folks who would be able to wet a line whenever they wanted to.
He envisions nursing home and assisted living residents, differently-abled people, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, 4-H groups, and families of all types using the fishing pier.
He would like to see the project completed before he, as he says, develops CRS, or “can’t remember stuff.”
Backes, who began operating Dassel’s Bakery in 1958, says he is “deep in the red zone,” which he explained means being well-past the 80-years-old mark.
Ackerman reported that Backes won’t listen to any ideas about naming the pier in his honor. Backes just wants people to come use the pier to fish and have fun.