A catalyst for adventure - By Charlie Burchfield |
There is a peaceful place where the sounds of human intervention are seldom heard. Tucked away from the beaten path in the bottom of a steep sided hollow is where youíll find it. There youíll find a pipe measuring eight inches or so across set into the side of the mountain and gushing with a tremendous flow of extremely cold water. Amazingly even in the driest summers the pipe runs full.
The pipe could be easily overlooked since it is situated behind a camp where a gated state forest road ends. And thatís OK. No doubt the owners of the camp feel the same way. No electric lines, candles, kerosene, or gas provides light at night. Wood or coal heat provides warmth in the winter. Who could ask for anything more? The setting and building reflects a bygone era of pioneer spirit and self reliance. This particular camp was established due to an opportunity of a lifetime that took place in the last century and not to be offered again.
The year was 1913 when the Pennsylvania State Legislature passed an act to provide lease agreements for the purpose of establishing camp sites on State Forest Land administered by the Department of Forest and Waters. Each lease provided for about ľ acre of ground to be leased.
Stipulations were set forth that provided for the construction of a cabin. A guideline of standards for maintaining the physical structure and ground keeping rules were determined.
Back then as it is today hunting, fishing, and the pursuits of the outdoors was popular. The leased sites afforded them the opportunity to remain in the area for longer periods of time.
The first year lease agreements were made available, a total of thirty leases were established. The program proved to be very popular. By 1929 that number grew to 2,888 and by 1935 the number rose to 3,180. Eventually that number peaked at 3,989 leases located in 16 State Forest Districts.
Also the available are 99 leased state owned buildings which are also used as camps. A number of those structures had been CCC buildings, some were officerís quarters but some were just tool sheds that have been improved.
While State Forest Camp leases became popular prior to World War II, sportsmen who did not established a lease with the state purchased private lands on which to build. They did so and many well established camps throughout the region were built and remain in use today.
Early on during the period from about 1900 up until the mid to late 1930s, roads that wound their way through and across the mountains of the northcentral portion of the state often provided difficult conditions for those who lived there and others traveling to the mountains. So travel by rail into the mountains was the best means of gaining access.
It is interesting to note that sportsmen who established camps from DuBois north to St. Marys and over into the Sinnemahoning drainage primarily had roots in the Pittsburgh area. Those who made their way into the Kettle Creek and Pine Creek areas were from the Harrisburg area and points east. However over the years there has been some deviation to that notion.
The establishment of camps really began to increase following WWII. General Eisenhower fought in Europe and realized the tactical advantage of the good roads that Hitler built, mainly the Autobahn, in Germany for moving troops and equipment. That being noted, Eisenhower moved to improve the road system throughout the country and established the Interstate Road system.
The newly developed road systems and automobiles lured more sportsmen to the area to establish camps. Today there are many well established camps built throughout the region, and they remain in use today.
Even with all the new construction of camps and seasonal homes, thereís nothing like an old traditional hunting camp. No two are alike. Man caves, labeled by some, but that moniker does these structures and those who visit them a disservice.
Today most of these cabins offer at least some creature comforts. At some the old outhouse still stands and is in service, while others have given in to indoor plumbing.
Yep, today in most camps youíll find a television that receives its signal from a satellite dish. Some camps fend off the mere notion of the boob tube at camp, and thatís okay too. But in time you can bet that situation will change as well.
The great thing about camps is that each one has its own personality derived from those who frequent there. Youíve just gottía love the hint of wood smoke that lingers in the air when in camp. Or itís the cool breeze that cuts through the screen that shields the open windows of camp.
At our camp one of the best times one can experience is at night sitting on the front porch.
Generally the conversation is conducted in hushed tones to blend in with the night. Those of us in attendance also enjoy watching the sky turn blue black with the anticipation of the stars that light the sky.
And how about feeling what is occurring around you as the warm earth begins to cool. Itís those times when the warmth of a light jacket is just enough to allow sitting and watching the night go by for just one more hour or two.
Just think, there are those who have gone before us who probably enjoyed the same things we do when they were at camp.
Charlie Burchfield is a past president of the Pennsylvania Outdoor Writers Association and an active member of the Professional Outdoor Media Association, and the Outdoor Writers Assoc. of America. To contact Gateway Outdoors the e-mail address is [email protected]