I admit it, I take the river for granted. It is such an ingrained part of my life – and even who I am – it is easy to overlook its power, not to mention the role it continues to play in my life. My parents own Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds and have since June 1977, a few months prior to their wedding. They purchased the business from my paternal grandmother who continued the business after my grandfather passed away. The canoe livery is as much of my family history as it is my personal history. Without the river, it simply wouldn’t exist.
Some of my earliest and best childhood memories involve the canoe livery. I spent countless hours swimming in the river, running around the campground, and generally spending my summers with my family as they worked. I hope my niece and nephews – and eventually my own child(ren) – will grow up the same way. Heck, not every kid can say that they have their own busing system! As my childhood home is located behind our Crystal Creek Campground store, my sister and I could simply catch the bus to our main location in Omer after watching Saturday morning cartoons. All we had to do was run down the hill at either 9:15 AM, 10:45 AM, or 12:15 PM, bathing suits in tow. Later in the day, we would turn the buses into our private forts.
One of my earliest memories of the canoe livery is of my grandmother teaching me to play the card game war in our old walk-up store. I also remember her teaching me how to find the big dipper in the night sky at around that same age. As a teenager, I spent countless summer weekends working with Grandma Reid, Mom, and Dad. Grandma taught me so much about business and customer service. Dad taught me, and continues to teach me, what it means to own a business and the value of hard work. Mom, of course, continues to keep it all running smoothly – now more than ever.
As for the river itself, it has provided our family with a wonderful quality of life for decades. I think of countless river trips over the years. One of my absolute favorites took place on August 1st last summer (also known as July 32nd if you are a teacher). I spent four hours tubing with one of my best friends. There may have been wine involved. We spent four hours catching up and enjoying the perfect Michigan summer afternoon/early evening. The weather was so perfect, we almost called my brother to pick us up downstream. We wanted to do the hour and a half trip as well.
It is easy to forget the power of the river on a beautiful Michigan summer day. The Rifle is spring fed and has a swift current (about 5 MPH) during the best of times, but it can become downright dangerous if the water is too high. In fact, we won’t rent equipment if it is too high. Add in ice and it becomes unbelievably destructive. Fortunately, in the years my parents have owned the business, we have only experienced severe flooding and ice damage a handful of times. In 1984, my parents’ mobile home was flooded shortly before we were to move into our new house. In 1991, we had 4 ft. of water in our store in Omer and ice damage at Crystal Creek. Due to ice jamming up at Pinnacle Bridge, which cuts right through Crystal Creek, we have experienced ice damage to trees and outhouses at Crystal Creek a few times as well. Nothing could have prepared us for this year.
In late February of this year, those along the Rifle River experienced flooding not seen since the 1950s due to ice buildup. Sadly, some people living in Pinnacle Park, which is located just up river from our Crystal Creek Campground, lost their homes. Our Crystal Creek Campground continues to look as though it was hit by a tornado. Dad and my brother Garrett are just now beginning to clean up. It is awful. Once it is finished, I will share pictures. The electrical system in that part of the campground will need to be replaced. On a lighter note, my parents’ home, the Crystal Creek store and shower house, and other out buildings are located on much higher ground and not affected.
Fortunately, our main location faired better. However, it did not remain unscathed. Our store in Omer took on two feet of water and mud, as did our pole barns. Luckily, our electrical system held. Overall, we were lucky. Other canoe liveries in the area experienced damage to vehicles, cabins, and more. Some even lost canoes and kayaks down river. Throughout this process, we have learned a few things and will be changing some processes when it comes time to close this fall.
My brother and I may never experience anything like this during our tenure as owners, but we will be better prepared. For so many varied reasons – many of which I can’t get into here – none of us will ever forget 2018. Here’s to a great summer and a beautiful (even if late) spring! I am looking forward to being back at my summer office.