By Jeff Martin
Now that summer is practically here in full force, itís time to talk about one of my most favorite activities ó camping.
Iíve camped in many places ó in the rolling hills of southern Ohio, beneath the great vault of sky and limitless prairies of Kansas and Missouri, and even once in the South, where the nights were bone-cold and the afternoons were sweat baths.
Iím looking forward to camping in Western New York. Iím especially looking forward to sleeping within its geography, a mixture of rolling, steep hills and pine forests. One of the advantages of having close to 20 addresses in a lifetime is the myriad opportunities to sleep within many different kinds of environments.
Iím not one for RV camping or camper camping. At best, this kind of camping is simply a pseudo-home experience, a kind of house relocation whereby nature is denied and electricity is still embraced.
To understand and fully appreciate nature, one must shed the trappings of convenience and comfort and get close to the ground. Thereís simply no better way to achieve this than by simply putting up a tent, rolling out a bag and folding out a chair near a fire.
So far, Iíve found two camping areas that I expect will satisfy the primitive man inside me and the man that, every so often, wishes to get close to nature but still wants some creature comforts.
Over at East Otto State Forest, known locally as Cattaraugus Reforestation Area 15, the comforts of electricity and bathhouses are nonexistent. Iíd heard about the place via small talk among diehard campers, guys who are always prepared to camp at a momentís notice. The park is located off Traffic Road, which is located off North Otto Road, which heads due north from Otto.
Situated in a dense pine forest, the approximate 16 camping sites are free and on a first-come, first-served basis. On a relatively cool spring day, my girlfriend and I walked down the road off Traffic Road and checked out each of the sites, some of which were shoved far back from the road and in great stands of trees. Other sites were close to the road but not many of them were. I noticed a small pond near some of the first sites. My brother-in-law mentioned that he pulled a couple bass out of there.
A great advantage to such a location is the cost, and there is no better cost than free. And thereís something wonderful about the idea of driving up to a site and claiming it as your own, bypassing reservation duties and camp hosts, who most of the time you have to waste time in finding.
Another advantage is just the peacefulness of it, the stripped-back simplicity of camping without the sounds of electricity and echoes that tend to reverberate inside a shower house. One has to be committed, though, to this kind of scenario in order to enjoy it.
A friend of mine suggested Pope Haven Campground as a kind of resort. Located on Pope Road in Randolph, which is a hop-skip from Ellicottville, the campground offers cabin rentals that are modestly priced. They sleep four and offer a variety of amenities ó even WiFi internet, which, personally, is the antithesis to camping, but I suppose everyone is different, right?
There are literally dozens of campgrounds in the area. Others include the popular Allegany State Park and, further north, Sprague Brook Park between Springville and Colden. The sites there are wonderful and secluded, and several trails for walking and mountain biking number nearly 11 miles. For more information about the forest and camping, visit www.dec.ny.gov or simply ask around. Thatís what I do.