New owners embrace Crooked Creek Marina

By: 
JENNY GESSAMAN
Reporter

Earlier this spring, two fishermen show off the catch of the day in front of the store at Crooked Creek Marina.

Photo courtesy of Crooked Creek Marina

The Crooked Creek Marina, located roughly 50 miles northeast of Winnett, has new owners this spring, but they aren’t looking for a new business model. Abbie and James Craig, along with their family, have been marina customers for years, and the couple plans on keeping the name and the atmosphere.


The end of the Harris era
Maintaining the business’ community-driven feel was a caveat of its sale, at least for the sellers. Destry Harris has helped his dad Bill Harris run the marina since Bill founded it in the late 80s.

“I grew up in it, and I’ve operated it mostly since 97,” Destry said.

As the informal western entrance to Fort Peck Lake, the marina attracts a range of recreationalists. A drought in the 2000’s left the marina dry for several years, but the Harris duo persisted. At the same time, the family built up several other businesses.

Destry now runs the Harris Cattle Ranch, as well as Harris Taxidermy and Harris Hunts, an outfitter business focused on big game. Managing all of the enterprises was getting hectic.

“[My father and I] had toyed with the idea of selling the marina due to a lot of things going on,” Destry said.

The sale was not a straightforward proposition, however: Bill founded the business, Destry managed it for decades and both wanted to ensure the next owners were just as invested. The duo did not list the marina, instead keeping their eyes open for the right buyers.

“For many years, James Craig’s folks and his family came to the marina a lot,” Destry said. “They were always one of those campers that would call before they came, to see if I needed anything.”

For Destry, this made the Craigs prospective buyers.

“That’s why I came to them,” he explained. “Because it was obvious to me they had a great love of the area, and of Crooked Creek itself.”

Bill agreed with his son.

“We had reservations about selling the marina because we were so involved for so many years,” Destry said. “Knowing who they are, he felt the same as me.”


Watching and waiting
There was a reason the Harris’ were sensing an attachment between the Craigs and the marina. Well, reasons.

For one, the family just enjoyed spending time there.

“We’ve been coming here since it had water back,” Abbie Craig said. “We’ve been coming here with the kids all of the time. They have so much fun, and you don’t have to worry.”

In particular, the couple enjoyed the marina’s atmosphere.

“It’s a great environment, and the people are fantastic,” she said.

James Craig attested to the fact that the couple loves Fort Peck Lake, the water body connected to Crooked Creek Marina.

“My whole life, we’ve been outdoors people: We camp, we hunt, we fish,” he said. “That’s what we’ve done since I can remember. And the Fort Peck area, I’ve just had this admiration for it forever, and the people, too.”

The Craigs are serious when they say love.

“We wanted to get married at the Crooked Creek Marina, but we couldn’t because there wasn’t enough water to get the boat in,” Abbie laughed.

James remembers their wedding, too.

“We got married at the Rock Creek Marina in 2013, and we had such a great time there,” he said. “I told her, ‘Look, if a marina ever comes open on Fort Peck Lake, we will own it, no matter what it takes.’”

Guess what?


Dreams ahoy!
The Harrises and the Craigs sat down around August of last year. After months of paperwork, a requirement by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, James and Abbie became marina owners in early May.

The two plan to build on what’s already there, according to Abbie.

“We’re open seven days a week,” she said, a change from the Harris’ weekend hours. “Weekdays, we’re open from seven to seven, and weekends, from daylight to day’s end.”

The Craigs have also expanded the marina’s inventory.

“We widened the range of products,” Abbie explained. “We have your basic camping groceries they’ve always had. Now we also have fishing tackles and fishing poles, oils for boats, fishing inventory and some hunting inventory.”

James described how the expansion went beyond the marina’s store.

“Fuel,” he said. “We have a 3,000-gallon tank that we fill with non-ethanol supreme fuel. We’re going to try and have fuel on hand for the whole summer. In the winter months, I think I’m going to back off on it a little bit.”

The Harris family closed for the colder months, but the Craigs hope to stay open, expanding on the marina’s calendar, too.

“We’re going to try to keep it open year-round, Monday through Sunday, 365 days a year, if I can make it happen,” James said. “It just depends on traffic: who’s going to be there and who’s using it. If a customer’s going to be there, we are going to be there.”

It does require some adjustments for the Craigs. James still works a construction job during the week, driving back and forth to help out on the weekends.

“I’m kind of used to the traveling because I’ve worked on the road for the past 14 years,” he said, adding how tiring commutes could be. “This is a little bit different for me, though, because I know I’m going to something that we own and we’re operating. It’s our business, it’s our passion and it’s something that I always wanted to do.”

The two older children are still in town, but Abbie has moved out to the marina, where she lives with the couple’s baby.

“I live in the camper,” she said, pausing before adding with a laugh, “The only thing I miss is hot showers that don’t have time limits.”

And that’s the truth for Abbie Craig.

“I don’t miss town at all,” she said. “I’m completely content out here in the middle of the sticks: It’s our dream.”

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