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At home in the wild

Family campers find peacE And quiet

By Jeff Nadler, Explorer Correspondent

We introduced our two children to the Adirondacks at an early age. At first, we took them to beaches with just enough toys, food, drink and sunblock to last the day. We always arrived home in time for dinner. Eventually, it dawned on us that we might be missing out on something.

Adirondack MapWhy not spend the night? We imagined ourselves canoeing calm waters at dusk, chatting beside a warming campfire, marveling at the shimmering Northern Lights, listening to the haunting call of a loon.

In short order, we purchased camping equipment for four and pored over brochures for state campgrounds in the Adirondack Park. We figured that the campgrounds would give us the perfect balance between comfort and wilderness. That first summer, we took our energetic preschoolers to one campground after another and soon discovered that these places vary widely in their degrees of peace and quiet.

At the Moffitt Beach Campground on Sacandaga Lake, for example, there were crowds of families with enthusiastic children playing in the sand and the shallow water, and we happily joined in the fun. But at the more remote Lake Harris Campground in Newcomb, on the southern edge of the High Peaks, we often had the small beach to ourselves.

Our fondest experiences were of the natural world: paddling past great blue herons and loons, hearing the slap of a beaver’s tail, being lulled to sleep by a gentle breeze and a chorus of frogs. And so we zeroed in on the more tranquil campgrounds such as those at Lake Harris, Forked Lake, Brown Tract Pond and Putnam Pond. We enjoyed them all, but if I had to pick a favorite, I guess it’d be Putnam Pond.

This secluded campground sits on the western edge of the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness. Looking across the pond (really a good-size lake), you see no signs of development, just forests and hills. The 72 campsites are well-spaced and quite private. Nine of them can be reached only by water. There is an intimate beach on the northern end of the pond, with a picnic area nearby.

Putnam Pond is ideal for canoeing. You can paddle around islands and explore deep bays and marshy coves. The wind is rarely troublesome. Motorboats are not prohibited, but we never saw more than an occasional small fishing boat. In all our visits, we were never bothered by water-skiers or jet-skiers.

Putnam Pond must have the greatest number of hiking trails of any state campground. We ventured into the Pharaoh Lake Wilderness to visit Rock Pond, Clear Pond and Grizzle Ocean, all reached via gentle trails perfect for children. Backpackers and strong hikers can push on deeper into the wilds to Pharaoh Lake, Pharaoh Mountain and other remote destinations.

One of our most memorable hikes was up Treadway Mountain, a small peak with a panorama so breathtaking that Carl Heilman chose it to adorn the cover of his beautiful book of photographs, Adirondacks: Views of an American Wilderness. If you start at the campground, it’s a 3.9-mile hike to the 2,240-foot summit. If you canoe across the pond, it’s 2.3 miles from shore to summit. In summer, you’ll find a profusion of wild blueberries on the trail.

On our hike, my daughter and her friend spotted a black bear cub tumbling off a fallen log, right along the trail. The girls were a short distance ahead of me and excitedly ran back to report their sighting. It’s dangerous to get between a mother bruin and her cub, so we proceeded cautiously and soon heard the distant grunts of a retreating bear.

We had plenty of other wildlife experiences at Putnam Pond. The waters are home to numerous ducks and other waterfowl, including nesting loons whose calls can be heard frequently during the night. We also heard barred owls at night from all directions; they created a surroundsound of “who-cooks-for-you, who-cooks-for-you-all.” Other times we listened to the croaking of ravens that nest on nearby cliffs. At dusk, beaver made their rounds and startled us with tail slappings.

As our children grew older, we took fewer camping trips together as weekend sports and social activities started to take over their time. One recent summer, however, we decided to return to our cherished Putnam Pond. We stayed at one of the campsites accessible only by water. The visit reaffirmed my belief in the value of wilderness.

With dusk approaching, my daughter patiently cast a nightcrawler from shore as the loons began their wild serenade. It wasn’t long before I was helping her unhook a sizable smallmouth bass. That night, the calls of loons, owls and coyotes awoke us, and when we peered out from the tent, we noticed mysterious flickering lights reflected on the still pond. Reluctantly, we left our cozy sleeping bags to investigate. When we looked up and saw a starblanketed sky, we realized we had discovered the source of the mystery: Mother Nature’s splendor.

Map by Nancy Bernstein

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