Way back in 1975, my family began searching for new outdoor opportunities. For years, we’d camped in a tiny pop up camper along a back road in the heart of the Allegheny National Forest near Marienville, PA. But, one day in the summer of that year, we arrived at our beloved campsite to find a ditch had been dug across the access road to it. Dad drove back home that day and put a ‘For Sale’ sign on the camper, which was quickly sold to a young couple just down the road.
It’s funny that my mother did not seem to know about Clear Creek before the mid ’70’s, as it is only about 25 miles from where she grew up. But, one day in the spring of 1976, she announced to us that she had discovered a ‘new’ place and booked a cabin at the park for that summer. Back then, the reservation system was not ‘first come/first served. You had to send in a postcard in mid-April, which was thrown into a barrel, then drawn in a lottery type system. By the luck of the draw, we had scored Cabin 13 that year and the vacation plans were made.
One of the first things you’ll notice about Clear Creek when you visit there, besides it’s obvious natural beauty, is the friendliness of the people who use the park. We had no more than pulled in to our cabin’s parking spot that bicenntenial summer, when other kids came, introduced themselves and invited us to a softball game that evening. While a lot has changed about the park over the years, that is one thing that hasn’t. Kids quickly make friends and take off to scour the park on their bicycles or catch crayfish in the waterways. Many times when the kids come back to ‘check in’, they’ll find another child’s parents at their cabin – engaged in a card or board game with their own parents.
Clear Creek has evolved a lot over the 33 years that I’ve been going there. For many years, your only restroom option was pit latrines scattered throughout the cabin circle and the campground. Flies buzzed about these little green buildings and you wasted no time using them, attempting to hold your breath your entire time inside. Most times that was an impossibility. Then, in 1988, two modern restrooms/showerhouses were built in the small and large cabin areas. In fact, as I type this post, the overnight areas of the park are closed while yet another restroom/showerhouse is being built in the campground and two ‘comfort stations’ are erected in the large cabin circle. I was not particularly receptive to these changes. However, back in my day we had enough ambition to walk to the flush toilets if we felt compelled to use them. People now feel they have to drive (yes, drive !!) the couple of hundred yards to the bathrooms. These new facilites should cut down on vehicle traffic, making the entire park safer. While the pit latrines still stand, God forbide should the majority of people use, or be seen using these germ factories. But, like I said, for years it was your only option. And I don’t think anyone ever died of salmonella from using them. (Sorry – rant off).
Nearly every year, our family spent a week, sometimes more, at Clear Creek. There were a few times that we missed being drawn in the lottery, but for the most part, were lucky enough to get a cabin. By the way, the drawing system for reservations has long since been done away with and all overnight facilites are reserved as ‘first come/first served’.
Eventually, I got a part time job in my late teens which prohibited me from spending a week at a time there. But, when my now wife and I began dating in 1979, she began making visits to the park with me and my family. In the five years leading up to our wedding in 1984, we dreamed of a lavish honeymoon to Niagara Falls or some tropical destination. But, as the time drew near, we came to the stark reality that such a trip was not in our finances. Instead, we sent in a postcard in April, hoping to get a cabin at Clear Creek. You can imagine we were pretty disappointed when our card was returned, signifying we had missed the luck of the draw. Instead, we found a small private cabin between Cook Forest and Clear Creek and spent our honeymoon there. Every morning, we’d get in the car and head to Clear Creek to spend our first days of married life together in it’s paradise.
If you do the math, you’ll see that this year we will celebrate 25 years of marriage. Like before, our dreams have always been big and our plan for many years was to go on an Alaskan cruise to mark the silver anniversary. But, the more things change the more they stay the same. So this year, we will take our pop up camper and head to Cook Forest. Our days will be spent hiking the trails at Clear Creek, Beartown Rocks and the surrounding area. Accompanying us will be our three beautiful childern – Elizabeth, age 13 – Olivia, age 10 and Robert, age 7 – all of whom have developed their own love and appreciation for Clear Creek.
Okay – I’m gonna try this one more time. The truth be known, this is about the sixth time in a week that I’ve written this entry and attempted to post it. The part that’s messing me up is these links that I want to share with you. The links are so long that every time I insert them into the post, they make my pictures move and screw up the whole thing. This blog is pretty new to me – maybe there is some way to shorten those links. But, if so, I haven’t figured it out yet.
Okay – I see I’ve rambled enough to get my text below that last picture, so here goes. If you like a complete photo tour of the park, you can go to my Picasa Web album for Clear Creek at http://picasaweb.google.com/1themanfromvan/ClearCreekStatePark#. There’s over a hundred pictures of every nook and cranny of the park in there. What’s better is that some of the pictures are well over 25 years old, so you can see me and some other family members age right before your eyes !! Also, for more information about the park, you may visit the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources website at http://www.dcnr.state.pa.us/stateparks/parks/clearcreek.aspx.
I hope to see you there. But, please – save a campsite for me !!