Choose wisely when looking for a campsite

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Andy, a former guest of mine who ended up on the wrong end of an encounter with a skunk while on a camping trip in the High Peaks Wilderness.

It proved to be a valuable lesson, and since that time, I’ve learned to take the necessary precautions to avoid similar encounters.

In recent years, there has been a major reduction in the number and frequency of negative human-bear interactions as a result of ongoing educational efforts conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Society, the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the Adirondack Mountain Club.

Although there continues to be reports of bears scavenging for food, the frequency of incidents has steadily declined after the DEC required mandatory use of bear-resistant canisters for all campers in the High Peaks.

Despite the success of the canister program, there are still plenty of camp pests to deal with in the Adirondacks, including a few of the rude and inconsiderate two-legged sort.

Unfortunately, it’s difficult to choose your neighbor when camping in heavily traveled areas. Some folks tend to have radically different perceptions on the concept of getting away from it all.

While some prefer to enjoy the peace and quiet of the natural surroundings, others take to the woods for a party, with boom box and all.

Most folks head off to camp to escape civilization, and it’s unfortunate when they end up camping side by side with fellow campers who refuse to be civil. It ruins the experience for everyone.

When selecting a campsite there are several factors to take into consideration, the first of which is time. You didn’t travel all the way out there, just to flop wherever you happen to drop.

Travelers should begin looking for a campsite at least two hours before they intend to stop, especially in popular travel corridors.

By seeking a site before you need to, you’ll have enough daylight to check it for some of the most obvious problems, including wind, weather, water and wildlife.

Begin by making sure you are at least 150 feet from any trail, road, stream or pond unless there is an established campsite or lean-to.

Next, check above for any dead limbs or potential “widow makers” that may come crashing down in a stiff breeze.

Be sure to also look for beehives on the ground, in the trees or under the eves of a lean-to.

Divide the site into three distinct regions, one for sleeping, one for eating and meal preparation and one for waste disposal.

If a privy is not available, establish an area downwind and well away from camp and at least 150 feet from any water source. I like to string a line from the edge of camp to the privy so it can be found at night.

If you plan a fire, be certain to keep it far away and downwind from the tent. The last thing to worry about is a spark burning a hole in the tent, as even a small hole will drip like an open faucet during a hard, driving rain.

Set all tent openings to the east, as most storms come from the west. Be aware of the potential for runoff in a heavy rain, and avoid setting tents in a depression or close to bogs or standing water.

Check also for roots, rocks or other uncomfortable items that will poke you in the night. Never pitch a tent near dense shrubbery or by a bog.

Locate a clear, open area and set tents on comfortable, level surfaces atop sand, grass, leaves or pine needles. Always use a ground cloth under the tent.

One of the surest ways to attract camp pests is to have a messy camp. Garbage, litter, and the remains of fish and other waste are sure to draw the attention of squirrels, chipmunks, skunks, mice, raccoons and even bears.

Never attempt to bury or burn garbage or hide food in a tent. Raccoons and bears will dig up garbage, and mice, squirrels or skunks will chew through a tent, a pack or even a sleeping bag to get at a stash of chips, candy or fruit.

Despite mounds of mouse traps, the banging of pots or lights as bright as the sun, if there’s a scrap of food available, there is no way to deter critters from invading your camp.

Always maintain a clean camp and keep kitchen and dining areas well away from the tents. During the bug season, situate kitchen and dining areas in the open to take advantage of prevailing winds.

Hang all food, candy and even scented deodorants and toothpaste in a bag strapped to a rope that is strung between two trees. I like to put a few forks and spoons inside a coffee pot, and hang it on the line. It sounds the alarm when critters attempt to get at the food bag and usually scares them off.

There are many camp pests that can ruin a trip, and quite possibly the worst camp pest is a skunk, for which there is no real remedy.

Just yelling, banging pots and pans or using pepper sprays can often scare off bears. However, if food is stored and hung high, and waste is properly disposed of, bears generally won’t present a problem.

Skunks are different critters. They cannot be simply chased out of camp. Unlike dealing with a bear, any yelling and commotion may provoke an unwanted response from a skunk.

Raccoons may be harried by bright lights or scared off by a stick or stone tossed their way. However, it is not usually a wise option to attempt when dealing with a skunk.

Skunks seem to realize they are accorded a large measure of respect from humans and they often go about their business of pilfering whatever food they want, unmolested.

Be certain the camp is kept neat and clean before heading off to fish, hike or paddle for the day. You really don’t want to return and discover the skunks, raccoons, ravens, crows, chipmunks or squirrels that were attracted to the aroma of your favorite brownies had wrecked the camp.

Other considerations in selecting a site include looking for signs of nesting, whether it’s a nearby burrow, a fox den or a bird’s nest. Wildlife is very protective of the young and they do not want anything or anyone interfering with them.

Other species such as loons, eagles or osprey may be flushed from the nest by human intruders, sometimes even abandoning the young in fright.

Loons, which commonly nest along the lakeshore, prefer remote areas on islands or points of land. Those stately birds may become highly agitated if approached while on the nest, and they often feign injury or even death in order to ward off an inquisitive intruder.

The goslings of Canada geese have one of the highest survival rates of any bird species, due to the protective nature of their parents. Both male and female guard the nest, and they will challenge intruders very aggressively.

Enjoy your camp, respect the neighbors and go easy on the land.