Camping is the most popular outdoor activity

Notes from the North Woods

Released on April Fools Day in 1869, William H. H. Murray’s book, Adventures in the Wilderness proved to be both an inspirational rant and a solid ‘How To’ manual for beginning campers.

Within a year of its publication, the wilderness rush of Murray’s Fools was on. The novice campers were greatly aided by the convenience of a new railroad link, which delivered city dwellers from either New York or Boston into the wilderness in less than a day and a half.

Unfortunately, those early Adirondack vacationers encountered tough travel during the summer of ’69, as a result of record-setting rains and unseasonably cold weather. Of course the one constant was blackflies, the region’s particularly notorious “flying teeth” which even tinctures of pin tar, citronella and balsam oil couldn’t chase away.

However, despite the horror of blackflies, unending crowds of newcomers and a few ‘rascally, scoundrelous guides’ most of Murray’s Fools survived their experience. Soon, they were singing praises about time spent in the wilderness where “the antiseptic quality of the balsam scented air made it all worthwhile to be on campaign and roughing it for a spell.”

Within five years time, more than 200 hotels and public camps had sprouted up across the Adirondack region. By the turn of the century, the summer population of the region swelled with more than 25,000 visitors, a sevenfold increase from the 3,000 or so travelers who had first invaded the region in 1869.

Murray’s book has been credited with “kindling a thousand campfires” and his widely published advice made “roughing it easy,” a task that could be undertaken by the common man.

A century and score beyond, campers continue to flock to the Adirondack region for such seasonal delicacies as the dark skies, the cool nights, the wail of the loon and the chance to just get away from it all for a while.

Joe Hackett is a guide and sportsman residing in Ray Brook. Contact him at brookside18@adelphia.net.

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