Monday, May 28, 2012

Austin F. Hawes Memorial Campground/American Legion State Forest

This was our first trip of the year, and also our first time at American Legion State Forest/Austin Hawes Campground in Barkhamsted, CT - and it was a great start to the camping season!  Despite the minor setback prior to our trip (see previous post below) we arrived at a decent hour on Thursday late in the afternoon and had plenty of time to set up.  We anxiously awaited the arrival of our camping comrades, Auntie Barb and Uncle Ken and then went and got pizza since we were all tired from the drive and set-up - a good first night!

Site 12 - It was enormous!

I do a lot of research prior to our trips and almost always have a pretty good idea of what to expect - I generally don't do well with surprises - it throws my "plan" off.  But upon our arrival at the campground, I checked in at the office and was surprised when I was given a stern warning NOT to leave ANY food outside unattended overnight or during the day, as apparently the black bears in the area have been extremely active recently and visit the campsites quite often, even going into tents!  I had not planned on starring in an episode of Yogi Bear this weekend - but it didn't appear as if we had much of a choice at this point.

A little bit of rain overnight into Friday morning and cloudy skies meant a somewhat damp day on Friday.  But the rain held off during the day which allowed us to walk the campground and check out the other sites.  There are several paths that lead down to the Farmington River and we eventually found our way down there where I got a couple of nice pictures of the kids and the scenery.

The kids also got a chance to do some fishing, though they have yet to catch anything on any of our trips!

The sites at this campground are HUGE.  Some of the biggest I've seen yet.  And they are spaced out so far apart - there had to be at least 100 feet of trees between us and the next site, if not more.  There are a total of 30 sites here and the campground is shaped like a figure eight.  Our site was on the outside edge of the campground, closest to the road - Site 12.  As a result we had a lot of traffic noise.  I would recommend booking sites on the inside, closer to the river.  Of course, with an 11 month booking window you'd better book them early - the sites close to the river fill up very fast!!  There are several sites that have another site directly across the road - these would be ideal for camping with others.  My personal favorite was site 5 - far from the traffic noise, enormous, and a little path that goes down to the river.

The bear warning was on my mind much of the time, of course.  To say that I was a bit "jumpy" for most of the weekend would probably be an understatement.  At one point while Ed was inside the camper taking a nap, he began to snore and I jumped out of my chair and gathered everyone inside yelling "OH MY GOD, WHAT WAS THAT?!?!"  Of course I felt a little silly afterwards, because to be honest Ed sounds much more like a grizzly bear than a black bear when he snores...

On Friday afternoon Barb and I headed to the grocery store to pick up a few things for dinner.  While we were shopping I received a text from Ed letting me know that the park ranger had stopped by and alerted them that a bear had been seen entering the campground.  We never did see him, but the following day while Auntie Barb was out tag sale-ing a few miles down the road, she snapped this picture:


We had hoped to get in some geocaching and letterboxing, but unfortunately this trip was cut 1 day short because Sarah was not feeling well and got sick Saturday night.  We packed up on Sunday and were on the road around 1pm.  It was disappointing, but then again we were also glad to get home have an extra day to mow the lawn, do the laundry - all that fun stuff.

Stay tuned - in about 3 weeks we head up to Tolland State Forest in Otis, MA.  One of my favorites!!

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Excitement Never Ends...

It's been a whirlwind of a week leading up to our first trip of the season and it just keeps getting more and more interesting!  After spending 5 days last week at dance rehearsals/recitals for Sarah and barely having time to breathe, let's just say I've been feeling quite under-prepared for camping this weekend.  I'm usually packed and ready to go with everything in order a week in advance and that's the way I like it.  We are checking in this afternoon to American Legion State Forest, so last night I scrambled to get the kids clothes packed, our clothes packed, the dishes done and threw in some last minute laundry.  Ed was outside loading the camper and hooking the bikes up to the bike rack when suddenly I heard what sounded like a waterfall coming from somewhere in the house - I ran to the basement and my worst fears were realized.  Apparently the breaker switch for our well pump had tripped, causing the water that was draining from our washing machine to back up into the house.  We tried resetting the switch to no avail.  The last thing we want to do is wait until we get home (Memorial Day) to deal with it.  After 4 days of camping I'm sure the first thing we'll all want is a good hot shower.  So needless to say, I'll be leaving work a little earlier than planned today to meet up with the plumber/electrician in the hopes that we can get this taken care of before we leave.

A curve ball like this less than 24 hours before we are ready to head out on our first trip is the last thing I want to deal with!  The excitement just never ends...

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Opening Day!

Camp Driveway

Today was a gorgeous New England day - the perfect day to pop up the camper for the first time this year and see how she fared over the Winter!  This is always a scary moment, because the threat of mice getting in is in the back of my mind from late October through April every year. You hear the tales of campers opened up after a long winter with shredded canvas, tattered cushions and shattered camping dreams. And out where we live, the mice are plentiful. We usually poke our heads in and look for signs once or twice during the Winter but without seeing the canvas you won't know for sure until you pop it up.  And I'm happy to report that thanks to close to two full boxes of dryer sheets strategically placed in every nook and cranny we could find, the camper looked exactly the way it did when we packed it up in October.  Aside from a few mildew spots on the ceiling that wiped clean with a sponge, everything was perfect.  And the fresh scent of dryer sheets wafted through the neighborhood all afternoon!  We re-packed all of the items we'd removed from the camper last Fall in preparation for our upcoming Memorial Day trip and my husband got started on replacing our non-working air conditioner with a roof vent fan we purchased recently online.  I plan to post pictures later once that project is complete.

The kids helped with the light cleaning we had to do and had fun digging through the game drawer - and Shelby the Camping Dog ran out to the camper with that familiar, maniacal look in her eye and wouldn't come out.

Yep - everyone gets excited when we open up the camper for the first time!

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Occupy Hammonasset State Park

I came across a press release this week from state Senator Ed Meyer completely by accident and frankly, it irritated the crap out of me:
Sen. Meyer Leads Passage of Bill That Will Improve Access to Hammonasset Campgrounds
Legislation would allow families to camp for three weeks, take five days off and return for three more weeks
HARTFORD – Responding to requests from outdoor enthusiasts around Connecticut, state Sen. Ed Meyer (D-Guilford) led passage in the Senate of a bill that will let families spend more time camping under the stars in state parks along the shoreline. The bill now goes for a final vote in the House.
Senate Bill 85 would allow families to camp for an extended period in two shoreline state parks if they leave the campground for five days after every three weeks and if the sites are vacant on a first come, first served basis. The bill would also allow for five percent of the available campsites to be leased continuously for the entire summer without limitations. The only parks affected are Hammonasset State Park and Rocky Neck State Park, the state’s only shoreline parks with camping.
“For families who make it a summer tradition to pack up and head for the beachside campgrounds at Hammonasset and Rocky Neck, this bill lets them maximize that experience,” Sen. Meyer said. “In the past, rules for camping at these state parks were not always followed and it caused confusion for campers looking to schedule their summer. Now anyone who wants to enjoy sleeping out under the stars with waves crashing in the distance can have more access to that lifestyle.”
The bill requires the commissioner of the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to establish a pilot program for the 2013 camping season that allows five percent of shore park camping sites to be leased to the same family without a limit on the number of nights. Anyone wishing to lease a site for the entire summer would be charged a $30 nightly fee.
If the legislation passes in the House and is signed into law, the DEEP commissioner must report back to the Legislature by February 2014 on the program’s impact on camping site availability, reaction of families using camp sites and recommendations for changes.
I'm sorry.....what?  

Obviously the two shoreline campgrounds in Connecticut are extremely popular because of the beach access.  The campsites are able to be booked 11 months in advance and trying to book a site can prove to be quite challenging.  That's why I couldn't help but laugh when I read the title of this press release - how, exactly, would this bill "improve" access to Hammonasset campgrounds?  It's already difficult to book, and now you'll have to deal with seasonal campers monopolizing 5% of the sites and other people staying on one site for weeks and weeks on end.  What is this, the New Haven green?  The original intent of these campgrounds was not for them to be a summer home. They are meant to be enjoyed and accessed by everyone and a continual flow of new campers every week would be a huge benefit to the surrounding communities.  Currently, the maximum allowed stay at either of these parks is 21 days per calendar year.  It can be broken up into small trips or done all once. Seems more than reasonable to me!  But proponents of this new bill claim that those who truly enjoy staying at the campground and are there for extended periods are the ones keeping it booked during the week and taking care of their sites.  So why not just let these die-hard campers stay as long as they please?  In my opinion it just puts further limitations on these already over-priced, difficult to book shoreline parks.  If you want to spend 2 months in the Summer at the beach - buy a beach house, or better yet find a privately owned campground on the shore and get a seasonal site.  Don't monopolize public campgrounds.

So Senate Bill 85 would change the current rules regarding length of stay.  It would allow families to camp for an extended period in both Hammonasset and Rocky Neck State Parks if they leave the campground for five days after every three weeks and if the sites are vacant on a first come, first served basis. The bill would also allow for five percent of the campsites to be leased as seasonal campsites for the entire summer.  Keep in mind that every other campground in CT has a 14 day length of stay rule which, to me, seems pretty darn sufficient.  A 3 week long camping trip in one spot, with the option of leaving for 5 days and coming back for 3 more weeks and doing it all over again?  Don't get me wrong, I love camping as much as the next guy, but isn't that a tad excessive?

This new bill has already passed through both the House and Senate so it's only a matter of time before it's signed into law I'm sure.  Regardless, I'd love to hear your thoughts on this - have you camped at either of these campgrounds?  What do you think about the extended length of stay?  Do you agree that the new law will improve access or do you think CT needs to get its' head out of its' ass like I do?

Oh, and here's a little camping tip for you before I go - if you are lucky enough to book one of the sites with electric hook ups at Hammonasset (frankly I think the odds are better that you'll win Powerball) you'll pay $35 a night as a CT resident.  But if you prefer, you can always head up to Cape Cod, MA, camp at Scussett Beach and get water AND electric hook ups for $22 a night as an out of state resident.   And along with your campground reservation comes the added bonus of not having to swim in Long Island Sound.

I think you already know where I'll be camping this Summer...