Wheelchairs and Walleyes

When Jeff and Jennifer Gooss purchased the iconic Dakota Walleye Classic fishing tournament in 2022, they did so for the sole purpose of making a charitable impact throughout all of Mercer County. The focus? Give a memorable experience to families for generations to come, all while using the proceeds from the tournament to donate to community causes that improve the quality of life of all who enjoy the area.

As an avid fishing family, they have spent countless hours at ramp facilities all over the country. One thing stood out at each and every ramp entry. Little to no access for people with mobility disabilities. That led Jeff to research his home area Lake Sakakawea. What he found was downright depressing. Stretching over 170 miles, with over 1,300 miles of shoreline, Lake Sakakawea, the third largest manmade lake in the United States, has two ramps on the entire lake with ADA wheelchair lifting abilities.

Of those, not a single access point on the entire southern shore of the lake. This means that a family with a member who is mobility disabled must drive hours out of their way just to get to a ramp that has handicap accessibility. In today’s day and age, that is unacceptable on multiple levels. This revelation spurred an idea!!!

The Vision

Make Mercer County, ND the most wheelchair accessible county in North Dakota for outdoor recreation. This would require building an on-land wheelchair ramp structure that would accommodate all persons with mobility disabilities.

The Idea

Build an on-land, ADA compliant wheelchair ramp structure near the lake entry point. The ramp structure would allow a vehicle pulling a boat or pontoon to drive alongside it. The person could then be brought to the end of the ramp where they would then have two means of loading into the boat. The first would be a seated lift that is solar powered. The person would be placed in this seat lift, then lifted into the boat seat of their choice. The second would be a platform wheelchair lift. That lift would allow additional lifting height and allow the person to be wheeled directly on to the pontoon in their wheelchair. Once loaded onto the boat, the boat would then be loaded into the water. This structure and equipment would be free for all to use. The accessibility equipment is already a standard in the industry and can be operated by anyone.

The Project

Working off the platform of the Dakota Walleye Classic, a charity event was formed. This charity event served two purposes:

1) To give the children and their families an experience of a lifetime;

2) To create a means of income generation to help build, maintain, and replicate this project at every public lake entry point in Mercer County, ND.

The 1st annual “Wheelchairs and Walleyes” youth with disabilities charity fishing tournament was born. This charity event will be held on Thursday, July 25th, the day before the 29th annual Dakota Walleye Classic.

The Wheelchairs & Walleyes charity tournament will take up to 15 children who use a wheelchair or require the use of mobility equipment and place them on a fishing boat piloted by a pro walleye tournament angler. The children and their chaperone will spend 4-6 hours battling it out on the water for a trophy walleye. At the end of the designated time, the children will be brought up onto the stage, and a winner will be crowned.

The children will be able to experience the exhilaration of tournament fishing and learn a few tips from the pros themselves. This tournament will be 100% free of charge to the children and their families. It is our goal to make this as close to a professional Walleye Tournament as possible. Complete with a cheering crowd.

How can you help

We NEED your help to make this happen! This project is monumental for an organization that is 100% donation dependent. It is our goal to dedicate this completed ADA project to the community on July 25th, 2024. That’s right! Concept to completion in under 5 months. We are confident that with your help, we can pull it off. With your financial contribution you will be the reason why family members from all over the state will be able to enjoy the third largest manmade lake in the US without making the disabled family member feel like a burden. Whether it be an aging parent that can no longer climb into a boat, or a person with paraplegia, they will know they have a place they can go to without the anxiety of trying to figure out how to get on or off a boat.

If you are a mobility equipment company or other company that would like to donate equipment, materials, or any other non-monetary donations, including items for the participants during the tournament, please contact us directly by email at jeff@dakotawalleyeclassic.com or by phone at 701-880-2609.

Do you have a child or know of a child you would like to nominate to participate in our Wheelchairs & Walleyes Tournament this year?

We want to give a special thank you to our founding corporate donors. These donors, with nothing more than a conversation, said “We’re in! How can we help?”

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