MINOT, N.D. (AP) — There's a new loading dock at the Spillway boat ramp area at Lake Darling. It's not just any dock, it's a handicapped-accessible ramp courtesy of the Souris River Basin Longbeards.

On the ramp is a sign in memory of a longtime proponent of the Wheeling Sportsmen who have long been supported by the Longbeards.

"It is dedicated to Marlin Lenton," said Percy Ottmar, Longbeards director, told the Minot Daily News . "He didn't even know about this project. It was to be a surprise for him but then he passed away before it was finished."

Lenton, a wheelchair user for 40 years, was an avid outdoorsman who was given opportunities to participate in activities sponsored by the Longbeards. He was grateful for every outing.

The new loading dock allows people confined to wheelchairs, walking with the assistance of a walker or otherwise unable to comfortably enter into a boat, to easily do so. The driver of a tow vehicle simply pulls a boat up to the ramp and the person utilizing it can then enter the boat with minimal assistance.

"That's one of the projects they wanted to do," said Tom Pabian, Upper Souris National Wildlife Refuge manager who has worked closely with the Longbeards for several years. "It's compliments of the Souris River Longbeards."

The cost of the ramp was $2,650. The money was raised through fishing derbies sponsored by the Longbeards. Each year they hold an ice fishing derby and an open water derby with a portion of the entry fees donated to Upper Souris NWR. A final $1,000 donation from the Longbeards assured completion of the ramp.

"Game and Fish lets us pick our projects," said Ottmar. "We requested our 10 percent from the fishing derbies be sent back to the refuge."

"We have a great relationship with them. Not only do they do great things for the refuge but also the local community," said Pabian.

Ironically, the Longbeards never intended to become fully involved in running fishing tournaments. They had assisted in operating a fishing derby sponsored by bar in Foxholm when everything changed suddenly.

"That was 13 or 14 years ago," recalled Ottmar. "The bar burned down the night before the tourney and that pretty much left us with the derby. We weren't planning on being in the fishing business. That's how it started."

As they say, the rest is history and much to the benefit of projects like the new handicapped-accessible ramp at the Upper Souris Spillway ramp.

"It still takes volunteers to get all this done," said Ottmar. "We reach out to Minot Air Force Base for help with our projects and need to thank them too."

Looking to the future, the Longbeards are already working with Upper Souris NWR toward boat dock improvements at the upper end of Lake Darling.

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Information from: Minot Daily News, http://www.minotdailynews.com