CAR CAMPING is an Adirondack tradition with a long history, but not much has been written about it in comparison with the verbiage on canoeing, climbing, hunting, and so on. That gap has been narrowed with the arrival of Good Ol’ Fish Creek, Edward Larkin Jr.’s recollections of fifty-eight consecutive summers of camping at the popular state campground of that name in the Saranac Lake headwaters region.
This is a love song to a venerated annual fortnight, a time-honored way of spending that interlude, and a place he calls his Shangri-La. In this thin, exuberant volume we gain insight into the how and why of car camping. We also learn that it is far different from low-impact, minimalist backcountry camping.
Just getting to Fish Creek from the Larkin home in Connecticut could be part of the adventure. In the early days, the family car, a photo of which suggests a primitive army tank, sometimes barely made it up the hill from North River to Indian Lake, even with airbags added to the rear springs and a watering can for an overheated radiator. This was partly because more and more gear got tossed in or towed every year. In fact we learn a lot about gear, something car-campers seem fond of talking about.
But the bulk of the book is about simply being at Fish Creek—campfires, s’mores, swimming, boating, making lifelong friends, visits from wildlife (not always small), exploring far afield on rainy days, biking, fishing, more fishing, the camp store, the ice-cream wagon, and evening programs. Larkin includes amusing anecdotes, such as the one about his friend who refused to let go of the rope when he sank while trying to get up on water skis, skied along the bottom for a surprising distance, and surfaced with a head festooned with weeds and mud.
Larkin is a good storyteller, capable of vivid descriptions. “As darkness approached, more often than not, a lone bugler would blow ‘Taps,’ the mysterious sound signaling quiet time was at hand,” he writes. “Spending a few more moments alone, or with a loved one, mesmerized by the flicker of a waning fire, usually capped off a perfect day.”
Sometimes, one wishes for a little more of this and a little less reporting of fish sizes. And like many self-published books, this one could have used an editor. Apostrophes pop up in bizarre places; there is some repetition; and exclamation points decorate every few sentences. Like standing ovations, these should be reserved for truly special occasions, lest they lose all meaning.
The thousands who have experienced all the pros and cons of car camping at Fish Creek will find their memories stirred by this entertaining book. Others will learn why, as Larkin
says, “The place gets in one’s bones.”
Edward Larkin doesn’t say much about the history of Fish Creek State Campground. But all is not lost; you can find that in New York’s Adirondack Park: A User’s Guide, by Andy Flynn and others. The chapter “Fish Creek Campground Photo” reveals that the state first offered camping facilities (“a lean-to and a few fireplaces”) there in 1920, signaling the dawn of the car-camping era. Today, it and the adjoining Rollins Pond State Campground provide a combined 642 sites. And yes, there is a “campground photo,” a 1930 shot that could have been taken last summer but for the vintage cars.
This is one chapter in an eclectic assemblage of material ranging from the practical (fine, concise entries on “Principles of Forest Preserve Use” and how to figure out the Adirondack Park Agency) to the ephemeral (Henry Van Hoevenberg’s hat). In this quirky, surprising little book, if the page you’re on doesn’t interest you, the next page probably will. ■