The Rafferty Marina, an attraction that sees thousands of Canadian and American anglers and tourists every year, had probably even more traffic this summer.
Barry Dies, one of the dedicated team members who has committed a lot of time and physical labour into marina improvements and maintenance over the past decade, said he believes that the pandemic allowed people more time to spend out on the lake.
Even though American travellers, which count for about 10 per cent of the visitors, weren’t able to cross the border, there still were a lot of people enjoying the site.
“I think because of COVID a lot of people haven’t been working, so they had more time to fish. There is no way to gauge the usage other than donations, but they are on par roughly and maybe even a little higher than the last three-four years. It’s been good,” said Dies.
Dies started boating in 2008 and shortly after that, he got involved with the fishing board and then with the Rafferty Marina committee.
“In 2009 or 10, I started helping, look after the place a little bit, cleaning the bathrooms. And then I got more involved when a new group of people took over the lease,” recalled Dies.
Six volunteers have been improving and maintaining the Rafferty Marina boat launch for about 10 years now. As the current lease is coming to an end soon, the committee started looking for people who will be ready to take over.
“Our lease with the Water Security Agency expires at the end of 2021, and we may not renew our lease. So it would be up to another group to take over it,” said Dies.
They plan to have a public meeting next spring to discuss the plans, but if there are no people willing to take over the lease, the marina, at least the way southeast has known it for the last 20 years, may become a notion of the past.
Dies added that he hopes people will step forward to keep the marina going, and he will help them at least during the first year.
Throughout the past years, for Dies the marina became an almost full-time job, as he comes out here almost every day.
“I’m retired, I’ve got the time and this is kind of my go-to place to get away from other issues and come out here, do my thing, drive the tractor, fix the roads, cut grass, whatever needs to be done.”
The marina committee has 15 acres of land to look after. The gravel road up to the main grid is their responsibility as well. The RM grades it every so often, but the boulders that come out of the ground every spring have been hard to deal with.
“Grading this road is tough because of the amount of rocks in it. I’ve dug out some, but some you can’t.”
Usually, bathrooms upkeep is another regular duty for volunteers, however this summer with the pandemic it was decided to keep them closed.
The marina has been doing well, especially after they installed the security cameras and vandalism cases went down significantly. During their time the committee also acquired two sea can containers, two tractors that are used to maintain the property, and rebuilt the docks in 2012 and 2015. Dies improved the bigger dock adding metal skids, which allow the dock to stay in position.
“This system works fairly well, it’s fairly sturdy, but it has to be when you have an 80 km/h wind,” said Dies.
This spring Dies decided not to put the docks out as far as they usually go as. Even with the new system in place the strong winds that were shaking the area in late spring-early summer would badly damage them.
Being a non-profit organization, Rafferty Marina runs off donations. When the boat launch was constructed in the late 90s, the government set aside some money for maintenance, which was being used throughout the years, but the committee has a lot of bills to pay.
“It costs us (about) $2,500 a year to do absolutely nothing, pay the power bills, pay insurance, (etc), it’s things that you have to do … And we want to cut grass, drag roads, it’s fuel.”
The lights stay on all year round, and there are a lot of other day-to-day expenses. Dies said they are usually don’t have any fundraisers, but many businesses and individuals often land them the needed equipment and provide monetary donations.
“We are very blessed with the support we’ve had from Estevan, not just the business community but people too,” said Dies.
About five years ago they also set up the honest John donation box, which is located on the side of one of the two donated sea can containers that house the equipment. Dies said that it seems to be working with many people putting money in there.
Sometimes they also remind those who launch boats at the marina that a small donation goes a long way. The volunteers put notes under windshield wipers, asking the public to consider a $4 donation and thanking the boaters who’ve already done so. Dies added that if the donation is significant volunteers can arrange for a tax receipt through the RM. They also recognize their biggest donors by displaying their names and logos at the marina.
Follow the Mercury for updates on the committee meeting and the destiny of the Rafferty Marina.