Camping in the Catskills: Chipmunks, Trout and Bear
Two years ago my wife and I packed our small children into our van and drove to the Catskills for a camping adventure. Based on the success of that year, we chose to head to the mountains again for another vacation spent in the wild.
We chose the Beaverkill Campground, which is outside Roscoe, New York, about two hours’ drive north of New York City. It runs along the Beaverkill River, which is known as one of the country’s greatest trout streams. After turning off the highway, it’s maybe a twenty minute drive through some winding one-lane roads before you reach the Beaverkill campground.
One of the principal attractions of the campground is a one-lane wooden covered bridge that dates to 1865. It sits over the Beaverkill River at one of the most prime fishing spots, and the calm pools beneath the bridge are occupied during the day by fly fishers looking to hook a trout.
Because the bridge is one lane but serves cars in both directions, the proper etiquette is to honk your horn as you head into the bridge. A car coming the opposite direction should honk back to avoid a head-on collision.
Although rain was expected, we managed to arrive at the campsite when it was sunny, and owning to my wife’s expert organizational and general DIY skills, we had our tent up pretty quickly. That night we had our first s’mores of the season.
With small children, we are not in the market for deep-woods camping and gravitate towards campsites with bathrooms and access to showers. That doesn’t mean this was not a wildlife-filled week for us and the kids though. Our campsite had two chipmunks that were bold enough to jump up on our picnic table when we were a safe distance away and got closer to us than chipmunks are normally wont to do. They know campers can be messy and bring a lot of food and these cute rodents were well fed.
The restrooms had lots of bugs, and large beetles found themselves trapped in the sinks and urinals of the men’s room. I took pity on one beetle in the sink and scooped him out before thoroughly washing my hands, but did not attempt to rescue any of the insects trapped in the porcelain hell of the urinal, preferring to let the murderous indifference of nature take its course there.
Because there are bears in the area, there are strict rules regarding leaving food or garbage out overnight. The campgrounds has a garbage bin that it locks up after 8:30 p.m. and any food or garbage you have after that point has to be locked in your vehicle (tough luck if you backpacked in there I guess).
On our third night, I was making my evening journey to the designated garbage/recycling area when I saw a large animal coming down the road that runs between the check-in office and the campgrounds. At first I thought it was a large dog—we met several campers who had large dogs with them—but soon realized that this was in fact A BEAR!!!! It was walking at a slow pace with the mundane expression of easy existence in its (pun intended) bearing.
I thought maybe my eyes deceived me and I quickly deposited my garbage and recycling and started back towards our campsite.
The bear was still walking in my direction.
For a moment it looked as if it was two bears close together, in which case I may between a mother and her cubs, and that is bad news.
I remember reading somewhere that if you come across a mother and her cubs, you are to remain facing them and walk backwards calmly. I did that.
The bear—it was only one after all—saw me and our eyes met for a moment. It turned off the road and headed down a wooded hill. I moved quickly back to our campsite. “I don’t mean to be alarmist,” I told my wife, “but I am pretty sure I just saw a B-E-A-R.”
I sped packing up our campsite for the night, getting all of our food in the van and shut tight. There was no sight of the bear beyond that. I reported the sighting the next day to campground officials. We continued our camping as planned.
We were completely unplugged when we were camping. We had no mobile phone reception and no computers or laptops available. No television, no video games on tablets or anything else. It was good for a change like that, to spend time with family and nothing else. Our kids found adventure in going to the river’s edge and creating their own secret hideout on glacial rocks.
We had mobile phone reception on the few visits to the town or Roscoe, which consists of a few blocks of buildings with only one main street. The dichotomy of the Catskills is evident there. We bought fishing equipment across the street from a guns and ammo store before going to a farmer’s market to buy local honey. There is a railroad museum and several bed and breakfasts there, as well as a grocery store that was our lifeline for ice, batteries, and other necessities.
The real attraction in the Catskills is nature and the abundance of greenery. Being a city dweller, we become accustomed to concrete and glass as our natural environment, and there’s something inherently unhealthy in that. We should be spending more time close to grass and trees, or the green ferns that sprout ubiquitously in the country. I understand why New Yorkers escape to the Catskills and I am not ashamed to be among their number.
We plan to be back north as soon and as often as possible. See you there.