July 7, 2009, Catskill Daily Mail: Camping offers an economical alternative

Camping offers an economical alternative

If the number of people who spent the Fourth of July weekend sitting around a campfire is any indication on how the economy is affecting family vacations, I guess the $819 billion stimulus plan the Obama administration said was needed to turn the economy around has yet to reach the working man.

Just about every campsite operated by the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation were filled to capacity, with many private campgrounds reporting a high volume of campers as well.

Not that camping hasn’t always been popular with nature lovers. But every time the economy slows, camping is seen as an economical alternative for people looking to get away.

Whether you pitch a tent, or sleep under the stars, the forest has always provided a genuine outdoor experience, and much of that experience can be attributed to the dedication of forest rangers who are involved in various aspects of wild areas including managing the plants, trees, animals and the development and use of state lands.

They also play a large part in the management of fire control in wilderness areas, as well as educating the public about fire prevention in the outdoors.

Here in New York, the single most individual responsible for keeping forest fires to a minimum is the late William F. Fox. Considered the “father” of the state’s modern-day forest rangers, Fox, a lieutenant colonel in the Civil War, became New York’s “Superintendent of Forests” in 1891. He quickly came to the conclusion that the then-current fire patrol system which used “fire wardens” — firefighters who only worked when there were fire emergencies, and local ad hoc firefighters -- couldn't handle the job of forest protection.

A visionary, he wanted a paid staff to cover the Adirondacks and Catskills, and in a report to state leaders outlined how he would organize the patrols by assigning each ranger to a township seven-miles square. The ranger would reside in a log cabin built in the woods near the center of the township.

This forest guard would keep a sharp watch out for suspicious characters that might be a possible incendiary. In sum, Fox said he wanted to shift the emphasis from reacting after fires started to prevention by patrolling the woods.

It took several years and two major forest fires before the legislature acted on Fox’s proposal, and in 1909, then Gov. Charles E. Hughes signed legislation that brought sweeping changes to the Forest, Fish and Game law that included the creation of a fire patrol service in the Adirondacks and Catskills. Fox died shortly thereafter at age 69.

Further legislation followed, replacing the “Forest, Fish and Game Commission” with a “Conservation Commission” and creating the title “forest ranger” in 1912. Though he didn’t live to see his vision fully carried out, Fox is still credited with being the father of the forest rangers.

Today, the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) — which evolved from the Conservation Commission — employs a statewide force of 134 uniformed Forest Rangers. Their mission of protecting the state’s natural resources remains consistent with Colonel Fox's vision.

Last month, the DEC held a ceremony to honor Fox on the 100th anniversary of his death. The ceremony was held at his graveside in Ballston Spa.

So what has all this have to do with camping you ask?

Well for one thing, campers probably benefit the most from Fox’s vision, inasmuch as forest fires have been kept at a minimum in both the Adirondack and Catskill Forest Preserve, the last in 2006 when 900 acres was lost in Cherrytown (Ulster County). In addition forest rangers patrol state campgrounds making sure that everyone has an enjoyable stay.

If you’ve been thinking about sleeping under the star’s you would be wise to pick up a copy of Car Camping for Everyone, by Mary and Bill Burnham (Knack publishers, $19.95). Part of the Knack, Make it Easy series, this 224 soft cover full-color how-to book, is a culmination of years of trial and error for this outdoor adventure couple, providing a quick-reading picture driven approach to learning.

In the book, Mary, who grew up camping in the Adirondacks, recommends how you can keep your first outings simple and inexpensive. “There are lots of things you can do without when camping but a tent is not one of them. Use your budget to buy a good tent,” Mary said.

As she points out, you can get something decent for around $100 at one of the big box stores, but you should think about borrowing a tent from a friend or rent one from an outdoor store."

While borrowing or renting a tent will allow you to give it a test drive, the Burnham’s don't recommend buying a used tent sight unseen. And to save money on sleeping bags, Mary recommends packing up your blankets and pillows.

“You can spend a lot on a down sleeping bag, but unless you're camping in extremely cold weather, just go with your old comforter and some pillows. A closed cell foam pad or one of the inflatable beds people use for their guest rooms at home will keep you comfortable. If you get an air mattress, make sure you can plug it into a cigarette lighter to inflate it,” she said.

You can’t get away from cooking no matter where you pitch a tent and for this, Mary recommends a Coleman two-burner suitcase stove that uses propane canisters. “The little backpacking stoves are good, but they’re also more expensive,” she said, adding that you could also borrow one from a friend or rent one.

“Garage sales are a great place to find pots, pans, and other useful items,” she said.

As you gain more camping experience, you'll get a better idea of what you need and want based on the kind of camping you're doing, how long your trips are, where and when you’re camping and how comfortable you and your family need to be.

To purchase a copy of the book and/or learn more about the Burnham's outdoor adventures log onto: www.burnhamvirginia.com/books .

News and Notes: The Coxsackie Sportsman’s Club, will offered a handgun safety course on Saturday at 9 a.m. Applications for the four-hour course are available at the Greene County Sheriffs Office in Catskill. Advance registration is required. For more information call Jim Lee at 518-943-3428 or Bob Dingee at 518-945-1378. The club is located at 97 Reservoir Road, West Coxsackie. Directions can be found on the web at: www.cox-sports.org .

The first of several summer 3-D shoots will be held at the Glencadia Rod and Gun Club, Nutten Hook Road (off Cty Route 9J) on Sunday. Other dates include Aug. 9 and Sept. 13. For more information call 518- 799-3006.

Dropping anchor ‘til next time.

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