The year 2011 was the best of times and the worst of times for local restaurateurs Frank Morrone and Brad Russell.
It was the best of times because in April, the two men fulfilled a shared dream by opening Pier 87, a bar and restaurant wedged between state Route 87 and the Loyalsock Creek in Plunketts Creek Township.
It was the worst of times because in September, a mere six months after the business opened, that dream literally was washed away by flooding caused by heavy rains from Tropical Storm Lee.
Brad Russell, co-owner, top photo, holds the construction permit needed to rebuild Pier 87 along Route 87 north of Montoursville.
"We were on top of the mountain, then about as low as you can get," Russell said.
Morrone said he was "heartbroken" when he heard the news.
"Brad called and said the dining room was completely gone," he said. "It was horrible - devastating."
Pier 87 was a long-time landmark - a gateway for vacationers and sportsmen accessing the pristine streams and forestland of the Loyalsock Valley.
According to Russell, area old-timers told him the building once was the clubhouse of a nearby sportsman's club before it was turned into a bar and restaurant. At various times, the business was called Shore Acres, the Last Chance, and prior to Russell and Morrone buying it, New Shore Acres.
Russell, a "lifelong restaurant person," moved to the area from Miami, Fla., in 1995.
He bought a home about three miles north of the business and passed it every day on his way to and from work.
The first time Russell saw the business, he knew he would own it some day, he said.
With Morrone, another man steeped in the restaurant business, he found a willing partner. The two men bought the business and the parcel of land it sat on at a sheriff's auction, then began polishing up what they said was an underused diamond in the rough.
They took their time renovating the interior of the building and building a maritime-themed outdoor patio.
The hard work paid off. When the business opened in April, business was booming beyond their wildest dreams.
"I was ecstatic," Morrone said. "My anxiety was through the roof because I never imagined the volume of business we were doing."
"It turned out exactly the way I dreamed about - even more," Russell said.
Occasionally, the creek threatened, but nothing ever came of it.
"The water came up four times since we bought the place all the way to the edge of the bank," Morrone said. "I didn't get nervous any of those times."
September's tropical storm was different. The creek already had a large volume of water in it from previous rains and the ground was saturated and unable to absorb a drop.
"After that rain didn't stop for a day, I knew we were in trouble," Russell said. "I knew there would be water inside the building."
As a precaution, Russell, Morrone, chef Owen Rutan and others cleared off the patio and elevated furniture and equipment inside the building.
Evac by kayak
"I thought we'd get 2 or 3 feet," Russell said. "I had no idea how bad it would be."
When water inundated the parking lot, Russell was forced to evacuate the building in a kayak.
"That's the last time I saw it until the next morning," Russell said. A section of the highway just south of the building was washed out so the only way Russell could reach the disaster zone was over a mountain ridge on an all terrain vehicle with two friends.
Portions of the building were still standing but other sections of it had been turned into splintered wood and heaps of rubble. The patio had washed away. Sections of concrete, twisted metal, broken glass - even Morrone's Jeep - littered the area. Russell said it was obvious the building was a total loss.
If Morrone and Russell were devastated by the destruction, so were regular customers and people who helped renovate the building.
"We were here for nine months and developed a kind of friendship," said Kurt Neiman of Williamsport-based Allwire Electric. "We were all depressed. We put so much work into it and it was booming."
Adding insult to injury, in the days following the flood, looters took items from the restaurant. Many of the items are impossible to replace, Russell said. But the bad taste left in his mouth by that are more than offset by the outpouring of support he received from neighbors, friends, and many times, total strangers, he said.
Russell has played a role in organizing fundraiser and other relief efforts for those impacted by the flood. He also has participated in efforts to remove debris from the creek.
"It was therapy for me, after all the help I got after the flood," he said.
Russell has put the disaster into perspective because other residents of the valley had lost so much more than he did. At least he was able to return to his home after about four months.
"Sure, I was depressed, but I had my home," he said. "My friends' and neighbors' homes were destroyed. There was no way this was the end of the world for us."
Things are slowly returning to normal, too.
Morrone and Russell decided to rebuild the restaurant. Several RV campsites on the property have been restored and are being used. People are using the property for parking while they swim in the creek.
"It's good to see them using the creek again," Russell said. "It's bringing a little life back in here."