I’ve always loved fall, but somehow, this time of year just means more this year. I’ve been on an emotional rollercoaster (more on that in a minute, and not all entirely COVID related) since mid-March. I want OFF! NOW. I never dreamed that I would help run a business and teach middle school during a pandemic, but here I am. Something I never wanted to add to my bucket list.
As I am smack-dab in the middle of returning to in-person classes for the first time since mid-March, it is SO nice to have some normalcy, particularly after a summer and spring that was anything but “normal.” I missed my students deeply, and I enjoy just observing kids being kids.
So, about this spring and summer … Well, of course, it all started mid-March – that ill-fated Friday the 13th to be exact. As the shutdown deepened, I began to worry about opening the canoe livery for the season. Worry about the survivability of the family business #1. Frankly, it didn’t look good. Just as we, along with pretty much everyone else on the Rifle River, made the decision to open for self-contained camping only during Memorial Weekend, the other shoe dropped.
May 18th-20th, we received close to 7 inches of rain. Dams in nearby Gladwin and Midland counties failed. Fortunately, we did have a little warning thanks to another livery on the river. My parents, brother, and I were able to save much of our technology and merchandise in our store in Omer. Good thing we had that warning. We ended up with 3 feet of water in the store. That wasn’t even the worst part.
During the shutdown, I made the decision to stay with my mom. I don’t think either of us wanted to be alone in our own homes for an extended period of time. My dad was at their cabin in Canada when the shutdown happened, and he didn’t come home immediately. I was over at my parents’ house when the stay-at-home order dropped. Then, it just became habit. What was I supposed to do at home by myself that entire time? Normally, I am rarely at home. I am usually at work, running errands – all kinds of things – none of which I could do during the lockdown.
Anyway, my parents and I watched in May as the Rifle River filled our Crystal Creek Campground near my parents’ home. It nearly reached Pinnacle Bridge, which is amazing in and of itself. Then it happened. I read a Facebook post that stated that the Forest Lake Dam broke. We evacuated my parents’ home. While the Forest Lake Dam isn’t directly on the Rifle River, it would feed into the nearby river if it did break. There simply was no way to predict what would happen if the dam broke. My parents feared losing their home of nearly 40 years, not to mention their business of nearly 45 years. I can still hear the panic in both of my parents’ voices. I hope to never experience anything like again it in my life. Same can be said for most of March through August.
Fortunately, the dam held. We returned to my parents’ home later that day when we received word that the immediate danger had passed. While I haven’t made a habit of watching the local news in decades, I did watch that evening as local affiliates reported as the Edenville and Sanford dams collapsed, devastating Gladwin and Midland counties. I know the area. I used to manage a convenience store in Sanford. I traveled M-30 across the Edenville dam many times. Wixom and Sanford Lakes are no more, and the Tittabawassee River reclaimed its original path. It so easily could have been my family. My parents could have easily lost their home – MY childhood home – and their business that day. So many in Midland and the surrounding area did.
When we were finally able to survey the damage, we were lucky. The flood mainly damaged our main location in Omer this time. Keep in mind that we suffered devastating flood/ice damage – along with tornado damage later that summer – at our Crystal Creek Campground in 2018. In Omer, we lost our propane tank, our ice chest, fencing, and a campsite. Yes, you read that correctly. When our campground – a former mill pond – flooded, the water drained in one area, completely eroding one of our campsites. We had to get excavation work done in order to rebuild. All of this on top of 3 feet of water in our store, bathrooms, and pole barns. The cleanup took nearly a month, delaying our opening. When we were finally able to reopen in mid-June, we didn’t know what to expect.
I will leave off here for now. There is so much more to the story. While I will discuss some aspects of what happened after we reopened another day, there is much more that will have to be left unsaid. So much of what made this summer truly horrendous isn’t even my story to tell.
In my family’s experience with the flood, I watched my parents, my brother, and I come together to make things happen under unprecedented circumstances. COVID made things much more difficult than they needed to be. Something as simple as ordering merchandise for the summer became a nightmare. Yet, it worked. We somehow made it work. That is precisely why I wanted to tell this story.
Above all, I hope all of us – every last person affected by COVID, which is the entire planet – finally get some semblance of normal. We deserve it!