Thursday, August 13, 2009
Beaver Pond Campground (Harriman State Park, NY)
If you're looking for a quiet weekend get-away in the Palisades region of New York, I'd suggest a trip to New York City. NYC should be a relaxing picture of serenity during summer weekends since much of the inhabitants seem to migrate to Harriman State Park. No, but seriously, with cramped camping quarters, loud ethnic music playing well past 10pm, and children crying well past midnight (and somehow waking up around 4am with just as much gusto) all that was missing were a few paved roads, pizza-joints, and maniacal taxi-drivers to complete the experience.
At Beaver Pond Campground, most of the sites are quite bare tree-wise and very close together, making the noise factor even more of a problem. I passed ear-plugs around to my entire family the second night of our stay and we all slept like babies (unlike the infants in the site across from us). A truck delivered firewood to sites for a certain fee each evening, but there was no general store to buy ice at unless you felt like walking across the entire campground and beach to the pond-store. Each night we watched an individual across from us attempt to chop firewood with a motion that slightly resembled an arachnaphobe slapping a giant spider while our other neighbors set up their fire pit with a display similar to Stonehenge in wood form perhaps with the hopes that some ancient energy would spread the spark to each independently standing log. I do recognize that as a family we have grown into quite a group of camping snobs and I'm sure that Harriman makes an excellent get-away for the NYC residents (it is only 30 minutes away from the city), but as a whole our stay was quite disappointing and at times verging on ridiculous.
The college-age employees seemed about as useful and knowledgeable as the cast from "Road Trip: Beer Pong," although slightly more sober due to the park's no alcohol policy. The girl behind the counter in the office was helpful enough, but the remainder of the motley crew seemed to loiter aimlessly about the campground flirting with each other and attempting to drive golfcarts down the hiking trails (which were about two shoulder breadths apart, hence the differentiation between "trail" and "road"). Granted, I may be slightly biased here seeing how after driving lost in NY for an hour (no NY state parks seem to be clearly marked, maybe sign-funding was cut due to the economic downturn) we arrived tired and on the verge of hysteria only to be reprimanded by a hot-shot youth for pulling across several parking spots (we had a 9-passenger van with a pop-up camper in tow). According to the numerically-challenged employee, they were expecting 200 reservations in the next 5 minutes (a daunting aspect for a campground of 140 sites) so we were forced to stick to strict traffic regulations in the then-empty parking lot during our 45 second reservation process.
In retrospect, our bad experience was probably as much our own fault as anyone's. The park's strong point is its many hiking trails (over 200 miles, including part of the AT) which we didn't take advantage of since our stay was more of a halfway camping break on our trek to Cape Cod rather than a backpacking trip. The one hike we did go on was pleasantly quiet, challenging, and picturesque though cut short by our decision to visit the pond in the morning. If given the chance again, I would reserve a camping spot in the A or W section (which seemed much more wooded) for a good couple days and spend most of the time on the hiking trails. Researching the trails beforehand would be useful, especially if there are maps online or in the library since they charge for maps at the campground.
Major Pros: Quiet hiking trails: the Appalachian Trail runs through the park, though not too close to Beaver Creek Campground according to employees (might want to look that one up).
Major Cons: Rather unfriendly employees, NYC influx, and golf carts on hiking trails. The campsites are sparsely wooded and cramped, quiet hours not-so enforced, only one water pump for the entire campground, no sinks to wash dishes in.
Tips: If you do camp here, try to get a site in either the A or W section. Both those seemed moderately wooded with much more personal space. Also, ask the Rangers for help/advice, not the college employees. Watch out for deer ticks (I found three after hiking). Lastly, when walking to the restrooms look at the roofs for the respective labels (mens/womens). The doors themselves are not labeled and my dad found himself in the womens room at one point due to this confusion.