One of the oldest and most vibrant memories I have is from when I was about five years old. I am being dragged by my teenage brother in a Philadelphia Flyer wagon, at an excessive speed, over a bumpy Macadam road at Eigth Lake State Campground. The road turned into a trail and continued through a tunnel of thick evergreen trees that led to a timber bridge over a small brook. It was morning and the air was crisp. Once at the bridge, my brother took off his sneaks, hopped into the shallow water, and was gone. Leaving me on the bridge sitting in the wagon.
Bears were something I may, or may not, have been aware existed at that age and time. But I do have a great memory of myself, my mom, and my brother and sisters, peering out the window of the Coleman camper as Dad chased a bear out of our campsite, in the middle of the night, barefoot in boxer shorts, yelling and waving a frying pan. This memory was not the same trip I don’t think. But it could have been. Five years old was a long, long time ago.
How long I sat there on the bridge? Not too long I don’t think. What I do remember is watching the dark water of the brook flowing below the spaces in the big, faded, timbers of the bridge. I recall the sweet, sugary smell of balsam, the hot bright sun, a clear, blue sky. The golden spits of deep sand on each bend of the creek, contoured from current and pocked by yesterdays’ raindrops. The high bank of the brook was layered, like a cake, in different tones of black sphagnum and peat and the shiny gold of sand rich in quartz. All of it decorated with countless pine cones, spruce nuts, fallen serviceberries, and pine needles.
My brother, in blue jean shorts and a striped shirt, long blonde hair over his eyes and ears, and wearing his giant goofy smile, returned to the bridge with a bullfrog in his hand. Perhaps I was crying, or shouting his name. I don’t recall. But I somehow beckoned his return. Intent on exploring upstream of the bridge, he let me tag along, and I remember struggling to keep up.
Jumping into the brook, I followed after him. Barefoot we walked in the shallow water, sneaking quiet around each bend, in a tangle of tag alders, looking for bullfrogs. The water ran over my legs and the firm, hard, and cold sand crunched under my feet and between my toes. Hunched over, knees bent, sneaking up the brook, my brother’s arm would snap extended back toward me with hand up and palm outspread, telling me in silent to STOP when he spotted a frog. His long golden hair shining in the brilliant morning sun as he froze like a heron about to strike.
Summer camping at the NYSDEC Adirondack Campgrounds had many distinct memories. In the morning it was the smell of bacon mixed with woodsmoke. The afternoons were spent on a natural sand beach, swimming, playing, and wishing the hot and beautiful summer day on this mountain lake would last forever. The days were followed by many clear nights with a sky full of stars, sneakers full of sand, and hot dogs and grilled cheese sandwiches on the campfire. My sisters looked small sitting in folding aluminum chairs, eating handfuls of marshmallows from a bag.
A lantern hanging from a nail in a tree trunk, softly humming a comforting sound, bathed the campsite in the softest white light while I fell fast asleep in the camper, listening to the laughter of my parents and their friends enjoying the evening hours. The big loops of campsites, the dark brown, rough-cut sided buildings with yellow painted trim and stapled screen windows. The folks in the green uniforms. The aluminum canoes. The creaking bathroom doors that were spring-loaded and slammed shut for the whole campground to hear. Flying squirrels, raccoons, chipmunks, loons, trout, bullfrogs, deer and the occasional bear that caused great drama with coolers in the dark.
The NYSDEC campgrounds of the Adirondack Park was my first wilderness. The sights and sounds of which became some of the happiest memories of my childhood. To this day I find myself forever wanting to be in the Adirondacks, under the pines, exploring a brook, or relaxing on the sand by a lake.
These special places continue to create great memories for thousands of people each summer season. A relationship and respect for nature, for so many families, began at the NYSDEC Campgrounds of the Adirondacks. The magic of these campgrounds is one of the Adirondack Park’s greatest attributes.