Kathy Durbin always has a story surrounding her trips to Wind Creek State Park.
This year it seemed the coronavirus might keep Durbin and the Florida Gang from their annual tradition — four decades of spring visits to campgrounds around the Southeast and nearly 30 years at Wind Creek.
“I was coming if I had to walk,” said Durbin of Milton, Florida. “I wasn’t going to let (the) coronavirus stop it.”
COVID-19 didn’t stop Durbin this year, but a toaster almost did a few years ago. Durbin stays at a cabin for the Florida Gang visits while everyone else camps on the peninsula of the D loop in the campground.
“They were needing a toaster at the cook shed so I brought it down,” Durbin said.
Mary Stankard also of Milton said a simple mistake set Durbin back some cash.
“(Wind Creek State Park staff) called and said a toaster was missing from the cabin,” Stankard said. “She had packed in her car with the intentions of returning it to the cabin but forgot to.”
Durbin offered to send a check or have a new one shipped but to no avail.
“They said someone who stole from the park couldn’t come back,” Durbin said. “I had to send the toaster back.”
Stankard added, “It cost her more in shipping than a new one.”
Not to be outdone, Durbin shared a shopping experience at Walmart in Alexander City shopping for the last supplies needed for the ‘Gang’s’ week long stay.
“I was looking for toilet paper,” Durbin said. “I went to the aisle and a lady was there with her arms outstretched stopping everyone while they restocked. She wouldn’t let me in. Everyone was trying to get in. I was just trying to see if they had a septic friendly version.”
The annual trip always involves fishing. Russell King is a decades long veteran with the Florida Gang but this year was his first trip after full retirement last week. With fishing being his only plan in retirement, King said it has been good. Fish large and small filled the cooler as the gang took a break to clean the spoils from Friday, many of which were caught from the bank. King landed a 19-pound blue catfish Saturday morning.
“He kept taking the noodle under water,” King said while cleaning fish. “We lost him but went back about 30 minutes later and there he was. I guess he wore out. I timed retirement just right.”
James Stankard said the big fish had to be treated a little differently than the other filets the gang was cutting such as other catfish, crappie and an assortment of bass.
“It’s better cut up in chunks, otherwise it’s too strong,” Stankard said. “We will marinate it overnight in Crystal hot sauce.”
Madyson Tugman, 10, of Crestview, Florida, was enjoying her first trip to Wind Creek State Park and had joined others around the fish cleaning table.
“I feel bad for all the fish,” Tugman said.
But when others asked her if she would eat the fish she quickly responded.
“Yeah,” Tugman said. “You can’t have them do all this and not eat. They’re too good not to eat.”
And with another initiation, the Florida Gang grows.
“We are starting another generation,” King said.
Florida Gang members are not the only campers taking advantage of Wind Creek State Park. Alabama State Parks issued a state last week its parks would be open. Wind Creek State Park superintendent Bruce Adams said only one reservation was been canceled for this past weekend.
“They were travelling from some distance away and felt best they stay near home,” Adams said. “We have gotten a lot of calls asking if we’re still open.”
Adams said the park still has plenty of spots for campers.
“We only have 90 or so reservations,” Adams said Saturday. “We have a lot of walk-up traffic. We’ve joked with everyone we have the perfect spot for quarantine.”
The park has nearly 600 camping spaces.
The Florida Gang has moved around a little bit over the decades from the Smokies to Lake Eufaula to Wind Creek but they’re quite recognizable at Wind Creek.
“Pappa started it with a parachute at Smokemont in the Smokies,” Stankard said. “The fire would vent through the top. Today, we look like a gypsy village with all of our tents and campers set up.”
Janice King added, “But when we leave, we leave it better than when we found it. We will spend time raking and everything. You will not know that we have been here.”
One of those tents is a cook tent, complete with two freezers, a sink, hot water heater and fish cookers of course. This year the group added another and put out a call on the it’s Facebook page asking for someone to bring extra propane for good measure. The meals are planned out. There is steak night, Italian night and a fish fry, but it doesn’t stop a late night heating of the cooking oil.
“We will be sitting around the campfire at night and someone will say they want some fish,” Russell King said. “Well, we’ll just start the cookers up and fry some fish.”
Kurt Frizzell of Milton, is in his fourth year coming to Wind Creek with the Florida Gang.
“We’ve joined the ‘Gang,’” Frizzell said while stringing extension cords to supply electricity to the camp’s lights over a cornhole setup. “It’s good times, great friends and great fellowship. We love it up here.”
Terri Pritchard of Slapout joined the “Gang” years ago after meeting the group while camping in Foley. While the spread of the coronavirus worries members of the “Gang” a little, Pritchard believes the group is in a great place to weather the new virus.
“It’s concerning but there is nothing we can do but stay clean and sanitize,” Pritchard said. “We will self-quarantine here if needed for three months. Where else would you want to be? If the president says to stay in place we will. We have a whole lake of fish we can eat.”