Archive - May 26, 2008

Horse Camping

Years ago, when I was Fiona’s age, our family would gather up tents, sleeping bags, flashlights, all the kids and everything else that was needed for a family vacation to go camping in the woods. We would usually drive in our old blue Dodge van to some state campground on the seashore and spend the week sleeping in tents and swimming in the ocean. Sure, there were bugs, and sunburns, and the occasional meal that somehow ended up with some sand in it. There were probably other complications that my parents kept well hidden from us kids, but all in all, it was the sort of idyllic experiences that inspired poets.

Kim’s family didn’t camp, so her idyllic childhood memories revolve around riding. When she was young, she would get on her horse and explore the riding trails of Connecticut. This was often done with friends from Pony Club and she grew up sleeping near her horse during those wonderful childhood experiences.

This weekend, we had the opportunity to mix these two experiences into something new for us and wonderful for Fiona. The folks at the barn where Fiona is riding go horse camping as often each summer as they can fit it in.

They invited us to join them this weekend, so I put the carrier on top of our little Toyota Prius and loaded the car with our tent, sleeping bags, clothes, food, and Fiona and our chocolate Labrador Barley. We headed off into the quiet corner of Connecticut, the wooded northeastern part of the state where woods and horses abound. I was concerned as I drove up. It seemed like the perfect weekend to go camping. Would the campground be full? The Department of Environmental Protection says “The Lost Silvermine Horse Camp reserves 22 campsites for people and their horses. The facilities are basic – campers are responsible for cleaning sites and carrying out all trash.“

Turning off the state highway to a paved road and then along a few unpaved roads, we eventually reached the horse camp. The sign advised that the area was for horse camping only. Soon we saw the horse trailers and our friends and their horses. To our surprise there were only four horse trailers there. Two of the trailers were our friends. One trailer was some other friends of our friends, and the fourth was someone we didn’t know. We parked at a small site that had about enough space for our car and our tent, and was right across the dirt road from our friends and their horses.

The weekend, with assorted trail rides and shared meals and trips to an ice cold swimming hole surpassed the idyllic memories of my childhood. Sunday afternoon a couple horse drawn wagons passed through the campground with a group of young riders on horseback amidst the wagons. As Fiona waved back surrounded by a group of Jack Russell terriers, I couldn’t help but wonder if we looked like modern day gypsies to these visitors.

Yet there was one dark cloud on the horizon. Our friends have been camping in this primitive campground for a decade. They have encouraged friends to come, but too many people cannot abide the bugs of camping, or the lack of an electrical hookups and modern plumbing.

Some people seem to think that this pristine campground is too wonderful to keep pristine and they want to begin a large scale renovation of the camp, trying to replicate larger camps in other states “and eventually create a campground suitable for large scale camping that would encourage tourism to the area and increased use on the trails, including having the space to which to host Competitive and Endurance events.”

We wondered how people in the quiet corner of Connecticut would feel about this potential influx, the demands on the local communities to improve roads and offer increased law enforcement. We wondered about the environmental impact of such a large project, yet mostly, we were just sad. We talked about major league sports where the cheap bleacher seats where regular folks could sit and watch a lazy summer afternoon ball game had been replaced by the sky boxes for corporate executives and worried if similar gentrification was coming to the beloved basic horse camp.

The lyrics to Joni Mitchell’s song “Big Yellow Taxi” came to mind.

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot
Don’t it always seem to go
That you don’t know what you’ve got
Till its gone
They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot

They took all the trees
Put ‘em in a tree museum
And they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see ‘em

So, Fiona got her first trail ride at a pristine primitive horse camp in the woods of the quiet northeast corner of Connecticut. Hopefully, she will get a few more chances to enjoy the natural surroundings before it goes upscale. In addition, we will keep our eyes open for other horse camps just in case this one gets destroyed.