Memories of spending time at hunting camp with friends, family and Piels
By Tom French
Several volumes could be written about the history of hunting camps in the Adirondacks beginning with the yarns of lore involving pumas and wolves along with moose, deer, bears and fowl. A drive along any number of backroads in the wild reaches of the Park will reveal numerous iterations of shacks and shanties – culturally iconic structures that dot the North Country. Even today, private camps and clubs continue to contribute to the area’s mythology (and occasional controversy).
One such tale involves the annals of camps along the Bog River and Round Lake Outlet near the southern reaches of Tupper Lake and the Goodman estate. Last fall, we stumbled upon a gravestone at Winding Falls, known locally as Pa’s Falls. Two of three stones have gone missing. Efforts to determine their origins resulted in several dead ends. But after the story was published by the Explorer, information flooded in with roots to a turn-of-the-20th-century tarpaper loggers’ camp.
Geoff Bigelow of Kingsbury happened upon the story on Google News. “I saw the picture, and I didn’t even need to read the story. I pretty much grew up on that river, and I put a stone there.” Geoff’s father’s ashes were buried underneath along with a .44 Magnum shell.
Geoff’s dad, Gary Bigelow, passed in the spring of 2003. Geoff hefted the stone “down the hill” that November “along with a 12-pack of Piels, because that’s what my father drank. I was 25 years old, and I had some serious issues carrying it. Only a select few of us went. We brought his ashes, dumped a little bit over the gorge, and put the rest underneath that stone because that was his favorite place to be.”
The ashes of Herbert “Hebe” Costello (known as Pa) and son, Hebe “Mokie” Costello, are there as well. Hebe Sr., who worked for International Paper, passed away while hiking out from the camp in 1978. His son placed the stone and spread his ashes shortly thereafter. It is this “tombstone for Pa” that Paul Jamieson reports in his 1994 Adirondack Canoe Waters — North Flow. The inscription read, “There is never enough time.”
Mokie’s stone, the only one remaining, was set with his ashes after his death in 1997.
According to Geoff, a crew of hunters began leasing the land from International Paper in the late ‘40s or early ‘50s. The original camp was located about 250 yards above Winding Falls.
“Hebe Costello and Bob Patrenets were the old timers who discovered the camp. They came over the mountain and just found it. They figured out where they were and talked to IP. They leased it as the Bog River Association and there were six camps within the association at one point,” he said.
The tarpaper shack was held up by three cedar post with two bunks for four men and another bed by the stove. “The wood stove was probably seven times as big as it should have been and cages were over the windows for bears.” Later, they added an eight-person bunkhouse.
A significant trash dump, perhaps from the logging days, can be found near the falls.
“I’m going to get pretty emotional,” Geoff said as he shared the many stories associated with the camp. “It just brings back so many memories from the time I was like 3-years-old until I walked away when my dad passed. It was an unbelievable place to be a kid. I got to grow up running up and down that stream catching native brook trout and salmon. We hunted deer and they drank a lot. It was your typical Adirondack beer camp.”
Geoff’s Dad and Mokie met at Plattsburgh State in the late 1960s. Gary Bigalow was a school teacher at Queensbury for over 30 years and Mokie taught in Hudson Falls. They were also involved in the founding of Operation Santa Claus, a charity that provides gifts of food and clothing during the holiday season in the southeastern Adirondack area.
Eventually, sometime in the late 1980s, the land along the Bog River became the property of the state, so they moved the camp.
“I took a razor blade and we cut the tarpaper down,” Geoff explained. “We split the camp in half, put the bunkhouse on a lowboy, dragged it across the bridge, through the s-turns and up that long mountain around two or three more bends to an old sand pit, and that’s where the Bog River Hilton had its second home.”
In 2003, it was moved again to an adjacent 2700-acre property that used to be the Hoot Owl Club, but within a year, their access was revoked. At some point, the structure burned.
“Dad passed away right before we lost it. If they had taken that camp while he was still alive, it would have killed him.”
The last time Geoff was in the area was around 2010. He and a friend from high school canoed down from Lows Lower Dam in May “when the black flies and the trilliums are out. That’s when you catch brook trout.”
“I learned more about life and the way things are supposed to be in the middle of those woods than I could have in any classroom. We’d go up there for no other reason than wanting to go to camp and get the fire going and smell that smoke. I was with my dad and he was with me and it was awesome.”
The fate of the two missing stones is still unknown.
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