By Joe Giannettino
I know what you’re thinking…the only thing Chappaqua and camping have in common is that they both begin with the letter “C.” Well, that doesn’t have to be the case.
I remember sitting around a fire pit with a few of my high-powered New Castle neighbors, cigars and scotches in-hand. One of them said (with a surprised tone in his voice), “This is really nice.” Everyone nodded their heads in agreement. Now, I’ve been an outdoorsman my whole life, so the joy of hanging with friends around a fire wasn’t new to me at all.
I asked a simple question which set an entire chain of events in motion. “Have you guys ever gone camping?” Silence. Then came the jokes. “I only camp at the Four Seasons.” “Is there room service?” and, “do they have wifi?” After a few more drinks, I convinced this group of CEOs, lawyers and captains of industry to give camping the old college try.
These guys were total rookies, so I suggested Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park in Gardiner, New York. It’s about as intimidating as it sounds. Yogi’s is a family friendly campground about an hour away; complete with a swimming pool, general store and even an arcade. Hardly the rugged outdoors, but it was a start.
As the date approached, the frantic emails intensified. Panicked fathers scrambled to figure out what they needed. I wish I could’ve have seen the salesman at Target as, one by one, the dads cleaned out their inventory of tents, sleeping bags, gadgets and fishing equipment. At this point, the Four Seasons would’ve been less expensive.The cars were packed, leaving barely enough room for the kids. Good thing it was only a short drive. We arrived at the campground, checked in and headed to our sites. A numbered stake divided each spot, which came outfitted with an old truck rim (for the campfire) and a faded picnic table. The task of unpacking began.
Fear set in as my fellow Chappaquans struggled to figure out which tent pole went where and how they were going to blow up a queen size air mattress using only their lungs. One of the guys brought a tent that rivalled the houses in Random Farms, complete with three bedrooms and a vestibule. My eight-year-old son became an entrepreneur that day, as each of the fathers gave him $10 to complete their tasks. It may have cost Mr. Random Farms $15.
With the tents finally set up, the next project was to collect firewood for our campfire. This was a necessity if we wanted to eat. The kids scattered like worker bees, each time bringing back twigs barely big enough to support a Barbie campfire. After about 15 minutes, one of the dads showed up with three perfectly bundled stacks of seasoned firewood he purchased from the general store. Not exactly living off the land, but effective.
One dad produced a cooler full of sausages and steaks purchased that morning from the Village Market. We were camping in style! Well, Chappaqua style anyway. Each link and steak sizzled as it hit the grill. The scent wafted. The kids were off riding bikes, fishing and playing wiffle ball. All was good in the world. Like our night around the fire pit, we enjoyed the warmth of the flames…and our friendships.
That camping trip became an annual tradition for all us dads and created lifelong memories.
There are dozens of local campgrounds to suit every level. For beginners, I recommend Ward Pound Ridge, where rustic lean-to’s are available, or Croton Point Park with views of the Hudson. Both are within a 15-minute drive, and if all’s not going to plan (or it rains), it’s an easy trip back home. For more adventurous beginners, there are several Yogi Bear Campgrounds and KOA’s within a two-hour drive. They have all the amenities described above. New York also has many state campgrounds which are easy to enjoy.
Visit www.nysparks.com/parks/ for more info.
In today’s world of facebooking, tweeting and i-things, the great outdoors offers a rare opportunity to get back to basics, slow down and reconnect. If you haven’t slept under the stars, it’s never too late to start. Just make sure you give Target a heads-up that you’re coming.
Joe Giannettino is a life long resident of northern Westchester. He has two sons, Daniel and Michael. He enjoys fishing, softball and any other sport in which you can exaggerate your abilities.