Last year a friend of mine, Mark Blehm, decided to take some pictures of my parents’ Crystal Creek Campground. Crystal Creek Campground is the larger of two campgrounds that make up Russell Canoe Livery and Campgrounds. Started in 1959 by my Dad’s father, my parents took over the business in 1977. In 1981, shortly after I was born, my parents purchased the land that would become Crystal Creek. My parents’ home, where I lived from ages 3 to 18, sits behind the office pictured below. The tree line obscures the house.
Mark took the pictures in late April, early May 2009, before the campers arrived. The picture of the office is already outdated as my parents finally properly landscaped the office this past summer. They also custom-built a new sign for the circle drive in front of the office. Throughout most of my childhood, several ancient apple trees stood behind and to the left of the ice machine. It is almost impossible to overestimate the influence our family business has had on my life.
I spent my childhood watching my parents’ grow their business. Over the years my Dad cleared more of the land and developed more camping area. He has a knack for creating small, private campsites, such as the one pictured below, as well big group camping areas surrounded by trees. Unfortunately, my Dad is the one that mows most of the campground. His employees do most of the trimming, which is a huge job too.
Crystal creek itself is barely visible in the picture below. The cold, clear creek runs through a large part of the campground before emptying into the Rifle River. I spent a lot of time searching for rocks in the creek, not to mention jumping over it, as a child. Despite my fears, I don’t remember ever falling in!
There is another creek in the campground, as well as two artesian wells. As children, my brother, sister, and I all played in the campground with friends. Summer brought an endless supply of new kids and new adventures.
Throughout the summer the campground is not only filled with pop-up campers, tents, and even fifth wheels, it also serves as the starting place for the popular 3 1/2 – 5 hour canoe trip. Another canoe livery ends their tubing trips here.
The picture above is of yet another section of the campground. This section is near Pinnacle Bridge on Grove Road. Grove Road divides the campground almost in half, separating it into two distinct sections. Personally, I believe the large section of the campground across Grove Road includes the most beautiful campsites. Mark Blehm didn’t photograph that section of the campground, but I hope to at a later date.
This picture illustrates many of the main features of the campground: the shower house, the large hill that slopes down to the Rifle River, and a small play set that has since been renovated. My parents built the shower house and installed the play set at roughly the same time. My little brother, three at the time, needed some time to adjust to the fact that the play set wasn’t just “his” during the summer months. Come September, he had it all to himself again.
When my sister and I had friends over during the fall, many times we would play in the campground. During the summer months, games of flashlight tag and campfires with camper kids were not uncommon. One of my best childhood memories is of my Dad taking my sister and I out in our pajamas to the top of the hill to watch fireworks in the campground. While we’ve always had a “no fireworks” policy, my Dad tended to look the other way 4th of July weekend.
In 2003 as a I was driving to my parents’ home from a 4th of July gathering on Sage Lake, I kept seeing fireworks in the distance. As I drove closer to home, I realized that they were coming from Crystal Creek. I couldn’t help but smile. 4th of July weekend is normally the busiest weekend of the entire summer.
My parents’ business will always be a huge part of my life. I grew up not only working with my parents, but my grandparents as well. My Dad’s mom and step-dad worked at the main location in Omer. I spent many days working with my Grandma. Those experiences will always stay with me.
It wasn’t until I went to college and left home that I fully realized just how unique my childhood was. I grew up surrounded by woods, the Rifle River, and campers. It isn’t a coincidence that as a child I was more comfortable with adults than children. When you begin dealing with customers at age 14, after spending your entire childhood surrounded by a family business, you deal with the world in adult terms. My sister and I were each others playmates as neighbor kids were few and far between.
While I love Mark Blehm’s photos of the campground, they certainly aren’t his best. I will be including much more of his photography in the near future. I just wish that he had his own website!