Camp Clarke Spring Rendezvous passes down passions to new generations
BRIDGEPORT — The songs of meadowlarks ring out on a sunny Saturday morning at Courthouse and Jail Rocks south of Bridgeport, interrupted by the crack and echo of a muzzle-loaded rifle being fired somewhere down below.
Walking down the hill to the campsite, canvas tents and tepees appear, as people dressed in buckskins and other primitive clothing walk to and from the range tucked into the creek bottom at the base of the rocks.
It’s the home of the Camp Clarke Raiders (CCR), and the spring rendezvous is a tradition that has stretched into the third generation for many of the club’s 75 members.
LeRoy Eichthaler of Bridgeport and nine other men formed the Camp Clarke Raiders Muzzle Loading Rifle Club in 1972.
They started at the Morrill County Fairgrounds shooting at paper targets, before moving to the Seybolt Park south of town.
“The Boy Scouts used the campground for their jamborees through Mrs. Seybolt, so we contacted them to do shooting with them,” he said.
As more people started joining in at “the range,” and the number of targets grew and improved, the club officially affiliated in 1975 — making CCR the oldest muzzle loading club in Nebraska. Today, Eichthaler is the last remaining founding member of the club, but shooting is a passion he’s passed on to his four daughters — who in-turn have passed it on to his grandchildren.
One of those daughters is club secretary and treasurer Misty Sigle, who said she grew up in the club and now brings her children out every Memorial Day weekend.
“The minute they see the rocks, they know that’s where we’re going,” she said.
The property is owned by the City of Bridgeport, and the club pays a 10-year lease to use it.
“We’ve got some of the best targets in the state of Nebraska on this range,” Eichthaler said. “We’ve not asked anyone to help with the buildings, or the well, or the awning. We take care of the place and mow it a couple times a year.”
Around the range are new benches and firing lines, crafted and constructed by 17-year-old Morrill resident Riley Harris. The club worked last Saturday to install all of the components.
“The old range was falling apart,” he said. “If you sat on a bench, it’d wobble over, so I figured that I would do some fundraising to provide something that was safer for the kids.”
The work was five months and 536 man-hours in the making. Harris kept records and hopes it will help him earn his Eagle Scout award.
“I’ve been a member of this club probably since I was still in the womb,” he said. “It’s been a big part of my life.”
Andy Harris, Riley’s father, is CCR president this year, and beamed with pride at his son’s accomplishment.
“Riley decided this would be a good project and it really helps the club,” he said. “A friend of mine owns a sawmill in Montana, so we got the lumber from there.”
Andy said he’s been a member of CCR for 18 years, and Riley’s mother, Tammy Harris, has been a member of the club since she was about 7 years old.
But it’s not a locals-only affair, however. People travel from the surrounding states to take part in the commaradarie and enjoy the family setting.
Fourteen-year-old Isaac Weekly of Hershey removed a rifle out of its case. He has been coming to the Renedevous for the last two years, and won the youth rifle giveaway last year.
“I enjoy it,” Weekly said. “It’s a different experience.”
The Spring and Fall Rendezvous bring in shooters from surrounding states, while the core membership CCR will go to the blanket shoots on the third Sunday of every month, where shooters will receive prizes whether they place first or dead last, Eichthaler said.
“We do that to keep our shooting eyes good, to come out here and B.S. and have fun,” he said. “We’re all a big family here.”
For more about the Camp Clarke Raiders Muzzle Loading Club, visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/CampClarkeRaidersBlackPowderClub/.