Anglers with physical limitations to have an opportunity to fish Devils Lake this year.
After an effort that began in early 2015, a new floating fishing pier will be available for use at the Channel A Recreation Site northwest of Devils Lake by June 1, according to City Engineer Mike Grafsgaard.
The construction of the pier, and similar piers planned for Henegar Landing and the East Ditch Recreation Site, was in response to a recognized need to provide those with disabilities, along with the elderly, a chance to fish Devils Lake.
"We have a section of the population that doesn't have a boat, doesn't have the access to get to the shoreline across the rocks, so a number of people wanted to fish but didn't have the opportunity," Grafsgaard said.
Johnnie Candle, president of the Lake Region Anglers Association, agreed that the project will open up fishing to those who were shut out of one of the region's most popular activities. His group was one of the chief donors to the project.
"Many of our members as well as the anglers that visit our area are not as young as they used to be or are faced with physical challenges," Candle said. "As a group we felt that it just isn't fair that these anglers don't get a fair chance to fish our incredible lake."
Grafsgaard explained the structure of the Channel A pier as well as the effort to finish the project in time for the prime fishing season.
"It's basically a floating dock," Grafsgaard said. "You'll have the dock section, then at the end of that dock you're going to have another section of dock that is going to be parallel to the shoreline. Around that will be a guardrail to prevent anybody from going off the edge."
"One of the issues that we have is that it's a little bit complicated. The concern that I have is that there is a lead time in the fabrication (of the ramps and gangways)," Grafsgaard continued. "It's going to take some man hours. The Henegar site, for instance, takes a significant amount of gangway and a significant amount of ramp. (It's) a lot of fabrication, a lot of cost."
In fact, the cost of the project required several groups to come together and contribute in order to move the effort forward. Those groups included Lake Region Anglers, the Lake Access Committee, and the Game and Fish Department.
Other contributors included Devils Lake Tourism, Lake Region Sportsmen, the Devils Lake Park Board, and VFW Post 756.
"The cost of the project is very expensive," Grafsgaard said. "We knew when we were looking at putting in truly ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) compliant facilities, it would take a significant amount of ramp. In a commercial environment, to make that ramp robust and meet building codes, it's going to be expensive. We worked to pull together a bunch of different potential funding sources."
Though many local groups joined to make the effort a reality, the project was largely made possible due to grant funding.
"If you look at the grant application, you'll see any number of support letters that were written for the project," Grafsgaard said. "With the local support that was garnered, we went to the Outdoor Heritage Fund. They're really the lion's share; this project fit their requirements. They approved over $360,000 in grant funding."
According to the grant application that was submitted in March 2015, the total cost of the project was estimated to be $610,765. $100,000 was approved by the Devils Lake City Commission to cover some improvements and cost overruns.
The grant application also indicates that "the fishing pier improvements will have a useful life exceeding 20 years, with the ramp useful life expected to be 30+ years."
In order to preserve and extend the life of the pier and ramps as long as possible, many factors unique to Devils Lake had to be considered.
"You can have very large waves. You have to be able to remove the piers and gangways. If you get a sheet of ice on the lake, and the wind blows across the lake, it can physically push the ice and thrust it up on the shoreline," Grafsgaard said. "So even though the dock isn't in the water, that sheet of ice can come up and damage the docks or the gangways. We have to make sure that we're able to remove enough sections to be high enough on the bank that it isn't going to be an issue."
Another potential issue is that those who travel to Devils Lake to fish may see the piers as an attractive option, which may prevent those with disabilities, who require the piers in order to fish, from utilizing them.
"We want people to understand the primary purpose for those ramps. If you're able-bodied and the fishing pier is open and available, there's no issue," Grafsgaard said. "But if (an) elderly or physically disabled (person) needs to use the ramp, we hope people understand that and make room for the people that truly need it. If you have to fish on the shoreline, fish on the shoreline. Let the people that need to utilize the fishing pier and the gangways use the gangways."
The attractiveness of shoreline fishing to visitors, and the concern that the piers could be overrun by those who otherwise would brave the rip rap in order to participate in shoreline fishing, has forced local officials to be proactive in dealing with the potential issue.
"We've had some discussions and we've drafted some language. We have some ideas about signage. If enforcement is an issue, (we'll) look at going to the county and potentially have them draft an ordinance that would make it unlawful for somebody to use the pier in some fashion," Grafsgaard said.
"It's a concern," Grafsgaard continued. "There's a number of out-of-state fisherman that come (here), and they do a lot of shoreline fishing. These piers are at locations that could provide some good shoreline fishing opportunities."
These prime locations should make it fairly easy for anglers to take in big hauls, which likely will encourage those who have been out of the fishing game due to physical limitations to come back to the sport.
"Another great part of the project is not (just the) convenience factor, but (that) the locations are home run fishing spots," Candle said. "There will be times when the shore fishing piers will be the best spots on the lake to catch a fish."
"Early in the season, Channel A is a very active site. The fish are running upstream as the water is coming in, so we want to make it open and available as early as we can," Grafsgaard added. "In some regards, that's the best opportunity for shore fisherman to catch a trophy fish."