CROSSLAKE -- As undeveloped shoreline continues to disappear in Crow Wing County it's harder to find an island in midst of the madness.
But recently a 17-acre parcel in the popular Whitefish Chain of lakes was guaranteed preservation from further development when it became the DNR's newest Aquatic Management Area.
Dassett Island, located in Rush Lake at the east end of the Whitefish Chain, has a cabin, but most of the 34-acre island looks as it did when the lake was pristine. In May 2000 the DNR bought 17 acres of Dassett Island for $190,000. The Rush Lake Association contributed $52,500 and got matching funds from Reinvest in Minnesota. The DNR kicked in the remaining $85,000 through the Heritage Fund.
"It just about broke our hearts to give it up but we know we did the right thing," said Betty Dassett, who with her husband Bob had owned the island since the late 1960s.
The island has hundreds of mature hardwood trees, including ash, oak and basswood. Softwoods include birch, aspen and several 150-year-old white pines too thick to wrap your arms around. Weed beds ringing the island are home to bass, panfish and northern pike.
For years the island has been a popular pull-up spot for boaters, skiers, swimmers and shore fishermen. Under its new designation as a restricted-use AMA it remains open to those uses. But hunting, trapping, overnight camping and picnics are not allowed and the other 17-acre half of the island remains under private ownership.
An eroded bank has been planted with cool-season dry mix seed, which produces deep-rooted grasses, forbs and wildflowers. "No trespassing" signs are posted around the area and the DNR hopes it soon will be covered with new plant growth.
The island's original owner was Bob Dassett's grandfather, Fred Dassett, who bought it in the 1920s. When he died the island was inherited by his three sons, who later gave it as a gift to nephew Bob and his wife, Betty, and nephew Jack and his wife, Frances.
The two families used the cabin, built by Bob's father, Robert Dassett Sr., until 1973, when they divided the property in half. Jack and Frances got the half with the cabin and Bob and Betty the undeveloped half. Bob and Betty thought about building a cabin, then dismissed the idea.
"We thought it would get too difficult as we got older," said Betty, who turned 80 last year. "So we built a small cabin on the mainland instead."
Throughout the years the Dassetts knew the island was a popular pull-up spot for recreational boaters, but Betty said there wasn't much they could do about it.
"We didn't like it, we told them it was private property, but we couldn't stop them from anchoring there," she said. "We had trouble with people leaving garbage after they camped. One time some Boy Scouts camped there without permission so my husband went to the camp where they came from and told them they needed to get permission."
Bob and Betty mostly used the island for hikes. They walked a trail and enjoyed the beautiful trees, Betty said, or sat in a boat in the small lagoon and reveled in their piece of the lake country.
The couple was gratified to learn the Rush Lake Association would contribute $52,500 to the purchase of the island. "That really hit us, that so many people cared about it the way we do," Betty said.
Roger Holmes, former director of the DNR Division of Fish and Wildlife, also cared about the island. He wrote a letter to Tim Brastrup, area fisheries manager in Brainerd, and instructed him to get the purchase of Dassett Island into his AMA program.
"It says a lot," Brastrup said, "when a division director does that. Their scope is a lot wider. But he got down to specifics on this one."
The Dassetts also have donated to the state Tamarack Island, a thin, 7.5-acre parcel lying just north of Dassett Island. Betty said she would like people who use the islands to remember the national park service motto: Take nothing but a picture and leave nothing but footprints.
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