A few weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend marked the “unofficial” beginning of summer.
But any kid will tell you that summer doesn’t really start until school is over, usually around mid-June.
Well, it’s mid-June now, and I tend to agree with the kids mainly because summers are made for families just to have fun together.
Some of my fondest childhood memories relate to our family camping trips. We had a nice tent and we watched the big archery tournaments all over the northeast of the country.
In fact, it was the first time my mom and dad “discovered” the Finger Lakes area of New York that way, and often came to Sugar Hill for great archery and camping fun.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has announced that all campsites are open. Most of them, especially those in the Adirondack and Catskill Mountains, are in places that are just too beautiful to be described in words.
And there are scenic spots like the ones we enjoy in NY that are dotted all over the Northeast and Midwest, not to mention the beautiful Blue Ridge and Great Smokey Mountains.
It is true that every campsite has something unique to offer. Activities available can range from fishing to hiking and exploring the lush forests that typically surround these locations will be both exciting and educational. They offer endless opportunities for families to enjoy some of the state’s most beautiful natural treasures.
There are more than 50 DEC operated campsites and a number of day use areas, mostly in New York’s two mountainous regions. And every year millions of people visit them to enjoy the spectacular scenery, climb the mountains and take part in special events inside and near the campsites.
Add in lots of historical sites like Fort Ticonderoga and lots of small villages with unique restaurants and attractions and you have a recipe for real family fun in the summer.
Campsites can be reserved through ReserveAmerica (800-456-2267 or at www.ReserveAmerica.com) and are also available on a first-come-first-served basis.
They vary in price from around $ 12 to $ 20 or a little more per night. All campsites are open until at least Labor Day, and many of them stay open during the fall foliage season and even into the hunting season.
What about the logistics of a fun and safe camping trip? The rising gas price brings all sorts of disruptions to family planning for many people, especially during the summer holidays. Many parents hoping to save some money to pay the rising cost of commuting to work are looking for ways to keep the whole family much closer to home.
Well I would like to suggest that they try a family camping trip.
As a side note, did you know that summer camping is America’s favorite family pastime? Unfortunately, a lot of people who want to try camping don’t because they don’t know the basics. You may be afraid that trying to go camping could turn into a disaster of embarrassment.
It’s a shame, especially because family camping is so much fun. And it’s really easy to learn how to take care of all the basics. For this reason, here are a few tips to get you started a little easier.
First, New York is just crammed with really great public and private campsites. I doubt any other state has more state parks for campers.
And they cover every ecosystem from Lake Erie, Ontario and the coasts and islands of the St. Lawrence River, almost all of the Finger Lakes, Catskills and Adirondacks to Long Island and the lower Hudson River.
Always start with a suitable and serviceable quality tent. Get one that has enough interior space for the family to sleep comfortably.
Make sure there is also little extra space for backpacks, groceries, and other items so they can stay dry.
A quality tent can cost more than a discount store, but is less likely to fail in adverse conditions like heavy rain. It will last a long time too, which makes it a better deal in the long run.
A good camping stove and a collapsible table to set up are also handy items. If you make sure that both items are also of good quality, the dinner won’t stay on the floor because the table legs will fold up under the load. Cooking on a good camping stove is also really fun.
Don’t forget the fuel for the stove. While many campers choose camp stoves that run on small bottles of propane, don’t overlook the older style that runs on stove / lantern fuel. Bottled gas is more convenient, but costs a little more.
Personally, I prefer the liquid fuel models. I know from experience how to let such a stove burn evenly for a long time. And two 1-gallon canisters of fuel will keep both my stove and lantern running for a week or more. That means a lot less cost than the bottled gas types.
Sleeping comfort is, in my opinion, the most important factor when camping. In the morning, it means the difference whether you are really refreshed or starting the day with an attitude that resembles a bear with a toothache.
If space in the tent is not a problem, opt for comfortable cots. It will support the entire body from the ground up, which can be important. At the same time, devices can be stowed underneath, a simple space-saving idea.
The next best thing is a high quality air mattress. When the body is properly inflated, no part of the body will touch the floor when the body is completely prone in the sleeping position. Remember that any air mattress that does not hold air all night is worthless, which is why I once again refer to “quality” when buying it.
Other important things that you should always take with you on any camping trip are a well-stocked first aid kit, sunscreen and insect repellent. Small emergencies always have to be dealt with. Things like minor cuts, burns, or abrasions can quickly ruin a trip.
And splinters are often as common as deer flies, especially if you don’t have good tweezers with you. Insects are always something to struggle with, so it makes sense to use a good repellent like Deep-Woods Off.
Activities in or near the camp are important. Fishing in nearby ponds, lakes, and streams can fill a morning with excitement and fun. Remember to purchase freshwater fishing licenses if necessary.
A topographic map can be great fun on any hike. A board game or two can come in handy on rainy days, and a good bird identification field guide and wildlife field manual also add to the fun. Bring binoculars so that you can observe the wildlife in detail from a safe distance.
There are a few other useful things to keep in mind. Sunscreen can help prevent painful sunburns. A matching lantern extends the day nicely. And don’t forget the eating and cooking utensils. I prefer the hard plastic plates (washable) with a metal knife, fork and spoon.
A coffee pot is worth diamonds early enough on a cold morning. A good griddle has a dozen uses in the warehouse. And food prepared in a casserole tastes best, even if it takes some time to master this technique.
Oh, one more thing. Don’t forget your trash bags and toilet paper.
Make sure you have a fully charged cell phone with you in case of emergencies, but keep it turned off to avoid the temptation to report to work, friends, or anyone else who is not actively camping with you. Any of the portable GPS devices can serve as both a fun and another emergency backup device at the same time.
This list is far from complete, but I hope it can serve as a starting point. Anyone considering starting family camping should get one of the family camping guidebooks available in any good bookstore. Good luck and have fun camping.
For more information, including a list of all campsites and each schedule, log on to the DEC website at www.dec.ny.gov. And click the Camping link under the Outdoor Recreation section. Or you can call the DEC’s Bureau of Recreation (518 / 457-2500).
Useful links for campers
Len Lisenbee is the Daily Messenger’s outdoor columnist. Contact him at [email protected]