On the hunt for a camp

Last week, I had the good fortune to sit in on a panel discussion that was hosted by Historic Saranac Lake. The topic of the evening was the traditions and culture of Adirondack hunting camps.

Bob Brown, a well known sportsman’s advocate from Saranac Lake, moderated the discussion which also included Billy Allen and Jack Fogarty.

The event played to a full house, and the audience members contributed a great deal to the discussion. It was an entertaining and informative evening that began with a slide presentation of old camps and older camp characters.

Brown introduced the program with a definition of what constitutes a camp. However, his definition did not always match up with the descriptions. The state Department of Environmental Conservation’s definition claims, a “camp shall mean any form of temporary shelter, including but not limited to a tent, motor home travel trailer, mobile home, or the use of any vehicle for shelter or sleeping.”

Although the public is familiar with the concept of Adirondack Great Camps, the reality of a true Adirondack hunting camp is a far more difficult concept to define, as the size and shape of a hunting camp can range anywhere from a rough, slant rock shelter to a comfortable cabin tent set upon a wooden platform.

These types of camps have long been allowed to exist as semi-permanent structures on state land for the duration of the big game hunting season. Hunting camp permits have always required camps to be removed within a week after the regular big game hunting season closes.

Currently, DEC regulations allow a camp to be established with a two-week permit. If a camp is established on Sept. 1, and renewed as a hunting camp permit at the beginning of the big game season two weeks later, the structure is allowed by law to remain on state land for the remainder of the hunting season, which is a period of nearly 100 days, rent free.

Historically, the Department allowed hunting camp materials and supplies to remain stored on state land until the following year. However, the standards of state land use have changed in recent years. Currently, the public is not allowed to store any unattended personal equipment on state land for more than 24 hours without a permit.

Enforcement of this restriction was intended to prevent the tradition of anglers leaving personal boats stashed along the shore of backwoods ponds. The current regulation states, “No person shall erect, construct, install, maintain, store, discard or abandon any structure or any other property on state lands or subsequently use such structure or property on state lands, except if the structure or property is authorized by the department.”

In addition to the permit camps, there has also been a long history of “outlaw camps” in the Adirondacks. Outlaw camps are permanent camps that were often constructed on state land. Typically, these camps were well hidden in remote and inhospitable areas.

And while the term outlaw was usually intended to define the structures, it has often been used to describe the camp’s inhabitants as well. When the topic was raised during the recent panel discussion, there were more than a few winks and nods exchanged among the panelists, and audience members as well.

Regardless of the camp’s construction, the use, the camp’s owners or it’s inhabitants, none of those elements make it a Great Camp. In fact, the caliber of a camp is really a reflection of the concept behind it. Whether it is simple or elaborate, a camp just needs to be comfortable to be considered great.

“Contact with the outside world, has given me human distemper.”

This quote has been ascribed to Noah John Rondeau, the fabled hermit and self-appointed Mayor of Cold River City.

Rondeau understood that when a man goes into the wilderness he may well be on his own, but he’s never actually alone. A man always brings along with him a unique piece of his past, and in that regard, Rondeau was very comfortable in his own skin.

When man takes to the woods, he is not actually escaping civilization, he is striving to recapture a piece of his past. We have become so conditioned to our ordinary, organized existence in a civilized, orderly society, that we’ve forgotten how to act and react when we are cut loose in a natural world.

Mankind has existed is a natural state for nearly 99 percent of our existence. Yet when campers claim they go to the woods to “get away from it all,” they don’t realize the journey is actually an attempt to return to a more familiar place and time. The purpose of the journey is not to escape, it is actually a reclaimation.

We don’t go to the woods to lose, we go to find and recover. It often seems to be an intangible notion until we consider the fact that mankind has existed in a “civilized manner” for less than 1 percent of the time we have lived on this planet.

It is an undeniable fact that nature is in our nature, and we are simply one of the more refined animals (although the jury may still be out on that theory.)

Adjust the pace and patiences

Wilderness travel provides humans with an opportunity to realize that nature remain a key component of their being, and that is good for them and not against them. The benefits of nature should no longer be a foreign notion.

Humans should be able to slip into the natural world comfortably and easily, like a well-worn moccasin. They can return to a time when their lives depended on a comprehensive knowledge of the natural world.

But it often seems we have lost that way, and there are now far too many artificial elements blocking our way along the route along that old familiar path.

The path to camp leads through our soul, and the sooner we come to recognize that fact, the easier it will be to return, time and again, to sharpen our skills, restore our senses and rekindle the natural fire that continues to burn deep inside all of us.