Fishing and boating means so much to thousands of people in the Detroit Lakes area every year. But what about those who do not have ready access to the water, either due to decreased mobility, or a lack of someone to take them there?
Since 2008, the Detroit Lakes Area Chapter of Let's Go Fishing has been filling that gap, serving over 6,874 seniors, veterans, youth and physically challenged people of all ages.
"We just launched our 10th anniversary season," says Dave Hochhalter, one of the chapter's founders, and its current treasurer. "It snuck up on us fast... I can't believe it (that 10 years have passed)."
Normally they might not have scheduled a trip quite so early, Hochhalter noted, but the May 5 Hospice of the Red River Valley excursion was a last-minute addition to the schedule, to honor two of their longtime volunteers - one of whom is currently a Hospice patient.
"We had such beautiful weather that week, my wife (Betty Hochhalter) called them up and said, 'Maybe we should try to get you out on the pontoon.'"
So that's what they did.
"Within 24 hours, we had them out on the water," Hochhalter said, noting that a small group of family and friends joined them for the trip. "We took them out on a two-hour excursion, and they thoroughly enjoyed it. It was a beautiful day, and it was an especially nice way to kick off our 10th season, serving one of our own."
The 2017 fishing season may be brand new, but LGF already has over 100 trips scheduled, Hochhalter added; technology advancements on the chapter's website, detroitlakes.lgfws.com, have made it easier than ever to do so.
"Our scheduling system has been made much easier, for clients and volunteers," Hochhalter said. "It's just a matter of a couple clicks to schedule a trip; our volunteers can also see what trips are out there, put their name down and they're booked for that day."
And speaking of... with such a busy schedule, one thing that the local LGF organization is always in need of is more volunteers, says LGF Chapter President Dan Berg.
"Mostly what we need more of is volunteers to take the groups out," Berg said, adding that the more volunteers there are, the easier it is to spread the work out between them.
"Every trip has at least a captain and a first mate - sometimes more than one," he said. "Last year we had 45 volunteers and they put in about 2,200 hours of service as captains and mates."
Trips typically last between 2-3 hours, Berg added, and there isn't a lot of training needed (though there is some that's required, for purposes of safety).
"To be a captain, it helps to know how to run a pontoon, but we can teach that too," he said, adding, "It's just a matter of getting the pontoon out on the water, meeting the group, taking them out for a couple of hours and putting the pontoon back (into its slip). The pontoon is pretty easy to run, and there's an electric winch on the lift... it's a very simple procedure."
If you would like to get involved - by serving as a volunteer on the pontoon for a fishing or scenic trip, or by helping out in other ways - please call 218-847-5670, email firstname.lastname@example.org, visit the website at detroit.lgfws.com or checking out their Facebook page under "Detroit Lakes MN Let's Go Fishing."