After lots of hard work, Rum River Campground welcomed its first guests

Larry and Cindy Feela and Diane and Steve Smith are pictured at their Rum River Campground, located between Milaca and Onamia on Highway 169. The couples began renting out campground spaces in July. Photo provided

Larry and Cindy Feela and Diane and Steve Smith are pictured at their Rum River Campground, located between Milaca and Onamia on Highway 169. The couples began renting out campground spaces in July. Photo provided

Larry and Cindy Feela are veterans of the campground.

The Elk River couple have been camping for over 20 years.

“We’ve been camping since the kids were small – and our oldest is now 38,” Cindy Feela said.

Steve and Diane Smith, of Elk River, aren’t too different from the Feelas.

They, too, have been camping for years.

The Rum River Campground not only offers beautiful views of the Rum River, but canoe, inner tube and raft access as well. Photo provided

The Rum River Campground not only offers beautiful views of the Rum River, but canoe, inner tube and raft access as well. Photo provided

With retirement near for both Steve and Diane Smith, they have been looking for an opportunity where they could camp in Minnesota in the summer, close up camp, and then winter in a warmer climate, maybe Texas.

The Feelas and Smiths, longtime friends who live just houses apart in an Elk River neighborhood, found this year that life can sometimes present surprising opportunities, especially for those with a little patience.

Enter the most recent story of the Rum River Campground, located on Highway 169 about 10 miles north of Milaca.

The Feelas, who two decades ago started out camping in a tent before moving up to camping trailers, have now graduated to owning their own campground. The Smiths are their business partners and neighbors on 126 acres once known as the Blossom Run Campground.

The couples purchased the campground on April 1. It’s a purchase that many might say was fate.

The Feelas and Smiths were looking to invest in a campground as early as a year ago and found a real estate listing for the old Blossom Run a year ago. The campground had been abandoned for over a decade and to say it was in rough shape is probably being too kind.

The couples made visits to the campground. They dreamed about what “could be” on the 126 acres along the Rum River. They worked on putting an offer together. And they shared the disbelief of losing the campground to another buyer during a two-week window in which they were putting the ducks in order, so to speak.

Diane Smith remembers the reaction of the four potential investors.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” she remembers she and her husband said.

“We were honestly bummed out,” Smith said.

The ones who purchased the campground had bid ideas of their own. They wanted to sell off lots, condo-style, and renamed Blossom Run the Rum River RV Resort. The resort never materialized and the campground found its way back onto the real estate market.

When that happened, the Feelas and Smiths were still watching.

What the process of losing Blossom Run taught the couples was that they were really serious in their desire to own a campground.

Diane Smith said she is really good with numbers and the business end of things. Cindy Feela has a strong background in marketing and customer service. The husbands, Larry Feela and Steve Smith, are handy and would be great with the much-needed renovation work.

“This place was available and located just 45 miles north from our homes. We honestly believed this was something we could do ourselves,” Diane Smith said.

Following the April 1 purchase, the Feelas and Smiths could hardly contain their excitement.

“We were so excited after we bought it that we came out in the snow with our campers,” Diane Smith said.

They got their campers stuck in the mud and had to have them pulled out, Cindy Feela recalled with a laugh.

Still, the couples were able to get in the first picnic at their new home that weekend.

Since April, the Feelas and Smiths have moved their campers to the new Rum River Campground and they started planning for the future. Hundreds and hundreds of hours of hard work commenced. Cindy Feela is living full-time on the grounds and Diane Smith is spending what time she can at her own trailer. Larry Feela and Steve Smith can be found at the campground on weekends.

A new dump station was already installed by the first buyers a year ago. The Feelas and Smiths ran new water and electric service to 49 of the 280 campsites on the ground. Some renovations have been made to the adjoining office, which has already received a new roof. Siding work and new paint were on the schedule recently.

By July 1, the Rum River Campground was welcoming its first guests.

Already, campers from the old Blossom Run Campground have stopped by to look at the new operation.

“People have been sentimental,” Diane Smith said. “They have shared some real good memories.”

Cindy Feela has been surprised that people still have pictures from the old days and stop by to share them.

“Our first customer was someone who used to come here as a kid,” Feela said.

The Feelas and Smiths are legitimately excited by the potential they see in the new Rum River Campground. With the first 49 sites open, they are working to have a total of 200 of the original 280 campsites ready for next season — including 20 acres along a creek with canoe and innertube access to the Rum River, which winds alongside the entire campground.

The overall goal is to make Rum River Campground a home to seasonal campers while having some spots for the occasional visitor — or “weekend warriors” as Cindy Feela likes to call them.

For more information, call 320-209-8828 or go to www.rumrivercampground.com or email info@rumrivercampground.com.

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