You'd think there would be enough to do when you go camping on hundreds of acres of field and forest, outfitted with olympic size swimming pools, heated spas, mini-golf courses, private fishing and boating lakes and tennis courts. Plus, with all the area events and attractions, it would seem that there wouldn't be spare time to do anything else. But campgrounds have developed their own internal subculture of special events to spice up campers' weekends.
After all the work involved in assuring their guests of perfect relaxation and worry-free fun, why do campground owners go to the trouble of cooking up these sprightly affairs? Probably because they want to make absolutely sure you have a good time. "I think its more fun and more interesting for campers to be able to get together," says Jean Taylor of Camp Taylor Campground in Columbia (908/496-4333). "They really get to have a camaraderie; the seasonals especially, but also the weekenders. They meet people and enjoy each other's company. Some will meet here and make plans to come back for the same event again. Its a way of getting everybody together and seeing how friendly campers really are. Campers are very friendly people." Or maybe its just because these campground owners like to get to know their visitors a little better.
Campers at the Taylor's can look forward to a surprise nearly every weekend. Treasure hunts, scavenger hunts and murder mysteries are popular. Jean explains, "Lots of people, after they get to their site, never see the whole campground. Treasure hunts get them out looking and picking up clues at different areas." The hunts are often thematic and always creative and original. One murder mystery had people coming back until the leaves started falling off the trees trying to solve it. Camp Taylor, which adjoins the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area, is also perfect for nature oriented programs like guided hikes up to the Water Gap overlook, walks along the Appalachian Trail, and tree identification weekends. Read a campground owner's diary...
The campground also offers guest presentations from Space Farms, the Pocono Animal and Snake Farm, storyteller Mary McBride, magician Beverly Suzanne, and Paul Stillman, who does first person historical characterizations. This year Stillman, who also entertains at schools all over New York State and at Corning Museum of Glass, will come as crusty old Nasty Ned the Frontiersman with tall tales about westward expansion. In the fall the Taylors convert the pavilion into a very spooky haunted house, which has become so popular they've had to stretch it out over a full month of the foliage season.
Since early 1998, visitors to Camp Taylor have enjoyed a built-in, twice-a-day special event: wolf watches at the ten acre Lakota Wolf Preserve (908/496-9244). Packs of tundra, timber and arctic wolves, bobcats, and foxes reside there, a mile back from the campground office in the Kittatinny woodlands. Campers or day visitors can enjoy a scenic walk back to the Preserve or ride at scheduled intervals. Beyond the double chained locked gates, the observation area lies in the center of four compounds where wildlife photographer Dan Bacon or his partner, Jim Stein, will answer questions, talk about the social structure of wolf packs, their eating habits, their interaction with man, and many other interesting facts. Unlike a zoo, visitors must often sit and wait for the wolves to come out of the woods, which they do most readily at feeding time. When they arrive you can watch the wolves play, interact with each other and maybe even hear them howl! Serious photographers can take guided photography or video sessions around each individual wolf compound. The fee for those coming just to see the wolves includes day use of all Camp Taylor facilities including lake swimming, picnicking, mini-golf, miles of nature trails, and evening programs.
A few miles away at Triple Brook Family Camping Resort in Hope (908-459-4079), master eventmaker Ira Alexander and his family have cooked up a menu of summer happenings laden with the down-home hospitality and humour that endear this place to so many.
One of the favorite annual events at Triple Brook is an evening of story telling called the Teddy Bear Tea. People bring their teddy bears so that can hear the stories too. "People sit down by the lake under the big willow trees. We have everybody there from very elderly people to the littlest tiny kids," says Ira. "You wouldn't believe how many grown-ups bring their old teddy bears.They come back year after year." Teddy Bears win prizes; one for the most loved bear, usually the one that's the most worn out. The bears and their friends finish out the evening on a hayride. You can also plan to visit Triple Brook on Wild West Weekend, New Years Weekend, Chicken Fly Weekend, Carnival Weekend, Hawaiian Luau, August Fools Weekend
Christmas in July has become a favorite weekend at nearly every campground in the area. The weekend just what it sounds like: glitter and glue, tree decorating, paper cut outs, Christmas crafts, kids parties, gift exchanges, and Mr. and Mrs. Claus to preside over the festivities.
When you plan your camping trip this summer, you really can't go wrong in Northwest New Jersey. But ask about what's on the calendar. There might be something special waiting for you.