Some people are going to hate me for telling about the Forked Lake Campsite in New York's Adirondacks. It's not even mentioned in the state's Vacationlands booklet but there it is, tucked away between the more famous (and more populated) Long and Raquette lakes near busy Route 10. It is a spot of almost idyllic seclusion, the lake full of bays and little islands. For years Forked Lake has been the hideaway of knowing smallmouth bass fishermen, and their families come to refresh themselves and steal a whale of a catch. Right now it is at its loveliest.
We stumbled upon the place by accident last year. Just below Deerland on Route 10 there's a sharp bend in the road, and just beyond this and heading west is a hard-top road running through typical Adirondack forest. Three miles in, an unobtrusive sign indicates the beginning of the state campsite. A sandy road wanders off into it for two miles. Bluejays squall or swallows twitter, depending on the hour, and you're liable to flush a ruffed grouse on almost any turn. Then the close-packed forest suddenly opens up to reveal the lake. At sundown the wall of trees on the far shore appears to blaze in the fiery light flaring over the sky.
Near at hand is a large parking lot with scattered cars from many states. Beyond is the caretaker's cabin and the dock. There is an unfounded impression among many that you have to own a boat to occupy one of these state-park campsites. The fact is that boats can be rented there for only $2 a day or $12 a week, and a campsite costs only 50� a night. Several of the choicest sites are just across the dam where the lake empties into Raquette River (some trout fishing here!). You can pull your car right up to the footbridge and tote your gear across the 200 yards or so to the camp grounds. Site No. 2 is a real beauty, with a deer-grazing meadow at your back, woods to the right and just below the bluff in front, the lake and flashing water pouring over the dam. Seventy-seven sites have stone fireplaces, tables with benches and access to primitive but clean outhouses.
You'll never be able to sleep late; there's too much to do. Over pancakes and delicious scalding coffee the days are quickly planned. Kids have met kids and already slipped the leash. Toddlers in life preservers are a familiar sight. They have the best luck feeding the chipmunks that live among the tall pines. There will be wives around, which is a good thing when a man wants to slip away for a morning's fishing. You may want to wander down to Buttermilk Falls on the Raquette where a skillful trout fisherman can sometimes take rainbows up to nearly 20 inches long, and the less skilled can dunk worms and take home a string of sunfish and an occasional bass.
There are plenty of characters in these parts to spin tales for city dudes. Albert Duane, the caretaker who looks like the proprietor of an old-fashioned country store, told us of a 500-pound black bear that was "got" the previous winter. The result was that when our breadbox was knocked off the picnic table and the bread pilfered the next night, there was all sorts of speculation. The following night the box was placed by the tent and I had a tug-of-war with Something that wanted it. I didn't hold on too hard. We solved the riddle of the culprit the next night: caught in the glare as I took a flash picture was a family of raccoons.
I tried to photograph some beavers one day, but they submerged when I put-putted up in the boat of an acquaintance who had rented a private island for one dollar a day with another family. This complete Crusoe setup had caves, shelters, hideaways—everything a kid could want, including good swimming.
Among the off-trail things to enjoy are a float-plane ride with Herbert Helms (DFC for 32 missions over Germany), who charges $2.50 a passenger out of nearby Long Lake; a trip to the Barton Mines, where garnets as big as your head stare out of the cliffs; a visit with Perry Ehlers, locally famous fly-tier who has had a path beaten to his cabin at North River; or golf on a high plateau. Anglers with a yen to hike can walk the three and a half to four miles into Sargents Ponds to the south of the dam for brook-trout fishing. Canoeists may be interested to learn that Forked is on the 100-mile canoe route from Old Forge to Saranac, and is a favored stopover place.
But to me, Forked Lake's greatest charm lies in its wilderness look. It is an area of great old trees and cool vistas. As a yardstick of its seclusion, it is one of several campsites that New York keeps open through the deer season, when hunters use it. Bright campfires glow in the forest after sundown and there is banjo music for the melody of a ballad. Here is the simple life, in the wildwood but with help at hand if needed. There is no noise of traffic; no television. The ground is springy to the step, the air laced with the fragrance of spruce. Camp life quickly becomes orderly and easy, with kids willingly performing chores they'd shun at home. Hurry back to work? Not on your life!
CAMPING TIPS FROM TED TRUEBLOOD
Finding a place to camp presents no particular problem in the West, with its national forests, parks and public domain. In the East, get off the paved roads and look for a faint trail leading to a wood lot or a grove of trees beside a stream. Ask at the nearest farmhouse if you may camp there and if the landowner asks for it, give him a few dollars for the privilege. Your seclusion and the absence of dust and exhaust fumes will be worth it.