For Brian Wilson, it was a far-flinging water swing — the one he and friends used to show off on while bikini-clad girls on floating docks watched and admired.
For Kacie Moser, it was the filming of Sean Penn’s “The Indian Runner” — she was an extra in the movie’s wedding scene that featured Merritt’s Beach as a backdrop.
For Omaha attorney Jon Blumenthal? Well, his mind floats back to those “Full Moon Fever” days when Tom Petty songs blared from the boombox on the banks of the Cass County swimming hole. To him and fellow high school friends, it was a simpler era, a time for “Free Fallin’ ” and “Runnin’ Down a Dream.”
Nearly 30 years have passed since Merritt’s Beach south of Omaha closed, but the summer hangout still stirs favorite memories for many Nebraskans who swam, picnicked and played volleyball there from the 1930s through the 1980s.
Now the former sand-mining operation-turned-weekend getaway is rekindling nostalgia as it is to be resurrected in April — this time as a private RV campground.
Boyer Young Development Co. has purchased the main lake, a smaller one and land totaling 30 acres near the Platte River. In its new life, the Plattsmouth site will be home to about 120 large recreational vehicles that will lease year-round spots equipped with power and water hookups.
For an annual fee of between $2,000 and $3,500 (not including power and sanitary pumping costs), tenants of Merritt’s Beach RV Park will have access to swimming, volleyball and horseshoe areas, an open-air pavilion and campground to be fenced in and monitored by a park ranger. They’ll have access to Platte River fishing and tubing.
In a flood plain, the property won’t have a restaurant or permanent structures other than restrooms and the park office, said Dave Vogtman of Boyer Young. Tenants can park RVs at the site all year, but camping season is April 1 through Oct. 31. The site is to be reserved for annual tenants and their guests, and is not open for drop-in or occasional weekend camping.
Vogtman said he and his partners paid seller Virgil Anderson about $450,000 for the land and probably will invest another $1.5 million in site preparation. Littering the area are broken trees, many of them casualties of a recent tornado.
Crews last week were clearing out debris. Roads and infrastructure are to be installed at the area just off of U.S. Highway 75, at the end of the winding Beach Road.
Vogtman also is co-owner of the Home Co., a homebuilder business affiliated with Boyer Young. New home construction continues to flourish, Vogtman said, despite rising construction costs. But research showed high demand also for RV parks in the Omaha metro area — Vogtman said some have a waiting list to lease space. Thus, the company set out to find land suitable for such an RV project.
A fun side benefit to redeveloping the Merritt’s site, Vogtman said, is the amount of reaction.
“Anybody over a certain age has some memory of the place,” he said. “The stories I’ve heard ... it’s the greatest.”
Boyer Young has set up a Facebook page for the RV park where people have shared thoughts. A separate Facebook page already existed where scores of Merritt’s Beach devotees swap escapades.
Even the Cass County museum has a collection of Merritt’s Beach photos and memorabilia.
Wilson, a CBSHome Real Estate agent who grew up in Bellevue, is among fans who fondly recall Merritt’s as being a bit on the wild side (at least in comparison with the city pools where lifeguards blew a whistle every time a kid got pushed).
Now 54, Wilson remembered the daring trapezelike swing, where muscle-bound guys helped launch willing swingers like torpedoes across the water.
“They’d push you and push you and push you and at some point you’d leap into the water — 15, 20 feet in the air — kind of a crazy, crazy thing.” He sighed: “Yeah, Merritt’s. Good times.”
Not all would have fond memories, as World-Herald archives reported some injuries and drownings at the site that prior to its conversion to a beach had been a sandpit from which gravel had been excavated.
Vogtman said the redeveloped Merritt’s Beach RV Park will be occupied with fewer families than those earlier years, and tenants will sign swim-at-your-own-risk documents. He said Boyer Young, however, plans to clean and return the luster to the spring-fed water and beach area.
It’s a beach that Plattsmouth native Moser associates with her big-screen debut. Along with family members and other locals, she was an “extra” in “The Indian Runner” (based on Bruce Springsteen’s song “Highway Patrolman”) shot in part at Merritt’s and released in 1991.
Then 6 years old, Moser (then Kacie Sharp), thought she was going to a real-life wedding reception. Once there, though, she was handed an outfit and told to play. The camera scanned her family on the beach. She wriggled her way to the wedding cake table, and made it on the photo that appears on the back of the VHS cover. (She’s the little one in the bottom right corner.)
“It was a whole day of playing, tiring but fun,” said Moser, now 32 and a nurse.
Blumenthal, now an attorney specializing in real estate, best remembers the Merritt’s summer of 1989. He was freshly graduated from high school and hanging with friends on the beach. Tom Petty’s latest cassette played on high volume.
“Whenever I hear ‘Runnin’ Down a Dream’ or ‘I Won’t Back Down,’ I think of Merritt’s Beach,” he said. “Man, time flies. It doesn’t seem that long ago.”
Blumenthal is excited to know the area will be used again in some form. “The part of me that’s nostalgic wishes they could go back to make it close to what it was. ... Anything that develops the area is great.”
Kurt Meisinger, now 53 and a certified public accountant, used to work at the old Merritt’s, starting at age 12. His teenage sister worked in the hamburger shack and got him the $1.25-an-hour job picking up cigarette butts, dirty diapers and other trash left after busy weekends.
He rose to bathroom and sun deck cleanup duty and eventually, in the mid-1980s, was veteran enough to help then-owner Louie Merritt prepare the park for opening day. Between those roles, he took money at the front gate.
“Like the drive-in movies, people would try to sneak in. Periodically you’d see a car stop down the road, and all of a sudden there’d be only one person in the car.”
Meisinger would alert co-workers, who’d watch for people to climb out of the car trunk and then demand they pay up.
He recalls the park’s trampolines that later were removed because of liability. The diving dock eventually went obsolete for the same reason.
Meisinger, who still lives in the Plattsmouth area, finds the Merritt’s revival intriguing. But the truth is, he said, those days can never be replicated.
“It was a meeting place for teens and young 20-somethings to go hang out and have a weekend away,” he said. “It’ll never be what it was.”