Deer Creek State Park Review

MT. STERLING, Ohio _ Like all Southern Californians, I vacation in Ohio. I could go to traditional West Coast vacation spots such as Las Vegas or Mexico or Hawaii, but none of those places has what I look for most in a relaxing getaway destination: the fear that I will be carried away by horsefly. (Approximate size: small kite.) Horseflies are part of the experience at Deer Creek State Park, where I have vacationed for almost three decades without losing any (important) family members to horsefly attack yet.

Deer Creek is located between Columbus and Cincinnati in a part of the state where the only government institution recognized by the locals is the Ohio State Athletic Department. The nearest town is Mt. Sterling, which has a few businesses that include a gas station, an IGA and the outstanding Larry’s Pizza and Wings. The IGA does not sell liquor on Sundays. I know. I tried to buy two bottles of flavored rum on a Sunday.

I walked up to the checkout counter with a bottle of Captain Morgan Parrot Bay coconut rum and a bottle of Captain Morgan Parrot Bay mango rum. The cashier looked at me, and after quickly surmising the type of lifestyle choices I make when I am not at the IGA, kindly told me that I would have to come back Monday for the rum. She then informed me that I could buy beer. So, according to Madison County, Ohio, it is OK to purchase intoxicating beverages on Sunday as long as those intoxicating beverages take longer to get you drunk. This is like making a law that says, “It is legal to have sex with a prostitute, but only if it takes you a really long time.”

That’s awful. For the prostitutes.

Coincidentally, I started the prohibition history book Last Call by Daniel Okrent on the plane ride to Ohio. In this excellent book I learned that (not surprisingly) central Ohio was the birthplace of the prohibition movement. I also learned that a Puritan boat that arrived at the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1630 with settler John Winthrop contained more than 10,000 gallons of wine in its hold and carried three times as much beer as water. Know why? Because even Puritans like to party, that’s why. I am typing this sentence while looking sternly in your direction, Madison County, Ohio.

From Mt. Sterling you follow the signs to Deer Creek, past miles of cornfields and into a 3,100-acre park whose long entry road winds past wilderness, an 18-hole golf course and a lake. The beautifully-designed lodge is the center of the park. It has 110 guest rooms, outdoor and indoor swimming pools, conference rooms, a restaurant, a gift shop, a fitness center, tennis courts, a wedding gazebo and, most importantly, functioning ice machines. Twenty-five cabins are located within walking distance of the lodge. The cabins have two bedrooms (one master and one with two bunk beds), one full bathroom, a kitchen with modern amenities, a living room with TV and DVD player, a porch facing the lake, a fire pit, a grill, and, most importantly, air conditioning. The cabins are clustered, but if you walk 200 feet from your cabin at night, and if you’re not trampled by deer, raccoons, skunks or groundhogs, you can see a sky full of stars. Note: There is probably something living under your cabin. It is furry and likes human food. No, it is not Zach Galifianakis.

Your days are what you make of them. My family has a few traditions. My parents get up around 6 am so they can quietly wait three-and-a-half hours for their sons to wake. After breakfast we walk to the pool and swim and lay in the sun until lunch. After lunch we play a board game or cards inside to avoid the peak heat from the afternoon sun. Donatellis are, after all, half-Irish. In the middle of the afternoon we return to the pool where we swim until dinnertime. By swim I mean throw the football back and forth across the water and toss little cousins around the pool. Any swimming strokes that are done are purely accidental, and more likely than not, satirical. Other things my friends and family have done at Deer Creek:

  • Put a catfish in the hot tub (not recommended)
  • Play home run derby in the indoor pool
  • Put soap in the hot tub
  • Paddle a full-size inflatable raft across the outdoor pool
  • Dive off the lifeguard chair
  • Swim all the way across the lake

In case any Deer Creek management types are reading this, most of these shenanigans took place during the 1980s and 1990s, back when the Donatelli family routinely rented five or six cabins and completely dominated the park. It was that one week every summer when everything smelled like homemade pizza and cavatelli. That was us.

Now we’re a little more laid-back. In the early evening we walk back to the cabin, shower and have dinner, which my parents have wisely prepared the week before and frozen for transport. (They begin planning vacation 51 weeks in advance.) As the sun sets we play cornhole or Trivial Pursuit or Cranium. Mom’s cookies are eaten throughout the day. When our friends and cousins come down from Columbus and Cleveland, we drink beer. We pretty much party like Puritans. Around 11 we knock off and then we do it again the next day.