The late Dallas Carlson loved to fish and the mystery of it all. He loved not knowing exactly what was lurking below him while in a boat on the Mississippi River and he imagined all that there could be.
The former Elk River man not only loved to fish, but he loved to introduce children to fishing.
It is in that spirit that the new dock near the base of Rivers Edge Commons Park in downtown Elk River was dedicated in memory of Dallas Carlson, the father of Chris Carlson who co-founded Sportech with his father.
There’s now a plaque with a picture of Dallas and Chris’ two children fishing on a dock at an unknown location.
Chris Carlson remembers asking city officials about 10 years ago why Elk River didn’t have a dock on the Mississippi River. He was kind of frustrated by the initial response, but he couldn’t be happier now.
“It’s a wonderful spot,” he told the Star News. “I couldn’t be more proud of how it turned out. Michael (Hecker) and his team did a good job. He was really good to work with. I’m proud of the city of Elk River. This was the right thing to do and we are really happy to be a part of it.”
The Carlson family contributed to the project through the Carlson Family Lightshield Foundation, which was started when Carlson sold Sportech in 2019.
The family has moved on to other entrepreneurial endeavors, and the foundation is providing them with opportunities to do some really fun and cool stuff along their journey. Taylor Carlson Schroer manages the foundation.
City officials tipped their collective hat to Carlson, boating enthusiast Shannon Tatro, the Elk River Parks and Recreation Commission and the Elk River City Council at a ceremony Monday, Sept. 26, along the shores of the Mississippi River. They also unveiled a newly crafted plaque attached to a boulder located near the stairs that lead down to the 107-foot EZ Dock system that has been paired with a handicap accessible ramp.
Carlson said a few words about his father at the ceremony. He explained how his father used to get all excited thinking that the next state record smallmouth bass could be swimming in the chilly waters of the Mississippi. Or maybe it was a 50-pound muskie that he was dreaming about or a 20-pound northern pike.
“He was always talking about what lives and dwells in these waters that we don’t know about,” the younger Carlson said. “He would go on and on and say, ‘Let’s go fishing.’ ”
Long after Dallas turned his son on to fishing, Chris would try to correct his dad during spirited father-son conversations that creel censuses done on the river can tell a fisherman with some degree accuracy what’s in there.
“Oh, they don’t know,” Dallas would say, according to Chris. “That (mystery) was part of the appeal for him.”
The successful businessman said he has seen the new amenity in downtown Elk River get used quite a bit by boaters and fishermen alike.
“My hope and our family’s hope is that kids are introduced to fishing here,” Carlson said. “My dad loved to take kids fishing. Loved to fish off docks. I hope that (families) drawn to that same mystery.
Carlson says his interest in a dock has been about more than a place to moor his boat. The vision he tried to cast was one about opening up the river to the community.
“To me, it’s about people enjoying the river from shore that don’t have boats,” he said. “It’s about creating a destination for people that live in Elk River and never have access to the river, so they can walk down into that beautiful park and spend an afternoon on that dock fishing or just enjoying looking at the water current.” It took awhile for that vision to catch on.
Long time coming
A portable dock extending into the river near a landing made it onto a long list of proposed improvements suggested in 2015 by an official from Hoisington Koegler Group in Minneapolis, the firm that designed the Rivers Edge Commons Park a decade earlier. An HKG official outlined expansion ideas for the Elk River City Council at an April 2015 meeting. The park was eventually expanded in 2017, but a dock was not part of the project. The dock idea notably surfaced in 2016 when Fred McCoy, owner of McCoy’s Pub, suggested installing a portable public dock on the Mississippi River in downtown Elk River. The Elk River City Council agreed then to look into it further. He noted Clearwater, Anoka and Monticello had them. Carlson, then of Sportech, and Annie Deckert and Rosie Lindquist, of Decklan Group, and the downtown River’s Edge Business Association were also expressing support, according to Star News reports. But it would be a few years later before the council would again take the issue up after being pressed on the matter and talks of a major donation added an exciting dynamic to the discussions.
The Carlson Family Lightshield Foundation kick-started the drive to get a dock erected with the promise of a donation totaling $57,000.
Hecker, the parks and recreation director for the city of Elk River, talked at the ceremony about how that donation became instrumental.
He also talked about Tatro, of Elk River, who told him the dock concept was a “great idea,” but it “needed to be parallel with the shoreline.”
“He was right,” Hecker said. “And (the city) had more land than it realized.”
Tatro went on to help Hecker with the design of the ramp, and a recommendation to go with EZ Dock, the same brand that is used on the Mississippi River in Anoka.
Carlson committed half the price of the dock in summer of 2020, Hecker said. The plan was to raise the rest by seeking donations.
“We even developed a video to sell a dock concept,” Hecker said. “The biggest obstacle was COVID. It had hit in March of 2020. That hurt.” A dock plan was approved in September 2020 with the support of the parks commission and the City Council with the donation from Carlson Family Light Shield acting as the jump start. With a plan in place but in absence of a stream of donations, Tatro offered boat tours of the Mississippi that seemed to turn a few heads.
The council approved the dock installation during the summer of 2021.
“The City Council realized it was something we should do, and it got done sooner than we thought it would get done,” Elk River Mayor John Dietz said. “I think it turned out great.” Hecker said DNR requirements slowed the process down but didn’t prevent the city proceeding with erection of the dock in the summer of 2022.
Council Member Jennifer Wagner called it another asset for the city that will positively impact downtown and the entire community.
“It’s another (example) of what we are in Elk River and what we have been wanting to be,” she said. “Not many communities can say (people) can pull up to this great dock, walk up into a jewel of signature park and then walk up and be part of a downtown shopping and dining community. It’s another asset for us that sets the community apart.”
Wagner said it would not have happened without community and private partnerships. “That’s how we get stuff done,” she said. “This dock is always in use.”
After the ceremony, the people in attendance gathered on the dock for a picture taken by Micaela Strand, a multimedia specialist for the city of Elk River. Afterward, several of the fishermen stuck around to talk about how much they love the dock. Nothing warmed Carlson’s heart more than hearing Tatro tell the story of a young boy in a wheelchair who uses the ramp and dock to fish from shore.
“He caught three fish (on one of his first visits),” Tatro said, noting the boy’s father carried him down to the dock to wet a line before the ramp was in.
“Nice,” Carlson said upon hearing the story. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Carlson shares the passion his dad had for getting children into fishing
“I have this fascination with helping kids at fishing docks and piers, untangling lines,” he said. “I love to bring a few rods and reels and tackle. I am committed to showing up there with tackle and gear and helping these kids get more excited about it.”