Camp Adirondack offers ADA accessible sites
Note: This first post was published in the Adirondack Explorer magazine last fall. It was based on the author’s experience on July 4, 2021.
My independence day happened at dawn.
My eyes opened at 4:18 a.m. on the 4th of July.
It was time to leave.
I had slept in my wheelchair in the Red Fox lean-to at John Dillon Park – a unique camp in the country, in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State, designed to help people with disabilities have an experience in the great outdoors. .
I turned on my chair, turned on his headlights, walked down the ramp from the lean-to, and drove away from our campsite. My 390-pound chair creaked along a gravel path, rattled the sleepy wooden planks of a long bridge over marshes, and rumbled onto a fishing pier just before 5 a.m.
Mist danced on Lake Grampus, which was a study in gray. A bullfrog croaked its baritone song. The crescent moon shone in the sky.
The lake, woods and clouds turned blues – from cerulean blue to azure blue to dark denim. A blue jay howled. The mist lifted.
The colors changed again as the sun rose above a bank of clouds, adding shades of marigold, squash and bronze.
I was overwhelmed as I sat on the dock, watching the scene mutate again, with dramatic splashes of light and shadow as seen in clouds painted by Dutch masters.
I had been excited for this exact moment ever since I had submitted our park reservations in the spring. I didn’t understand exactly why.
The significance of this outing dawned on me at 5:39 a.m. on July 4.
For two years, a degenerative muscular disease had deprived me of my freedoms. Like a relentless thief in the night, ALS, known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, had robbed me of my ability to climb the Adirondack Mountains, cycle through Wilmington Notch, and explore lakes by kayak.
For the past few months, it has taken away my ability to walk more than a few steps, cut my food, or tap with more than two fingers. Eventually, it will rob me of my ability to speak and, well, to breathe.
I am now more dependent on others than I have been in the 58 years since I was very young.
As I sat on the dock at Lake Grampus, I realized I needed this experience.
I needed to feel, once again, the simple joy of independence.
It brought back a memory from long ago – the first time I remember seeing the sun rise. My parents had rented a cabin on Lake Keuka in the Finger Lakes. My brother and I had slept on the porch, sharing a double bed. I woke up groggy to pull the covers higher against the cold early morning air.
The scene just beyond the wharf surprised me. The oranges and reds of the sky reflected in the imperfect mirror of the lake.
It was the most amazing thing I have ever seen.
Part of my elation, I realized even then, was the thrill of freedom. As the youngest of four children, I had little say in what we did and when we did it.
But here… here, I could wedge my pillow, my jaw dropping at this miracle, and concentrate on the sounds of life on the lake – the lapping of the waves and the putt-putts of the first fishermen. And when the show was over, I could roll over on my side, pull back the covers and fall into a deep sleep.
At Grampus Lake, the show was also over. I got back on my way and up the ramp to Red Fox’s lean-to. My wife slept soundly, as did our eldest daughter and son-in-law in the adjoining Black Bear lean-to. I pressed buttons to lie flat in my wheelchair, pulled my blankets off the floor, and fell into a deep sleep.
The day began again with the crackle and pop of a fire at the Black Bear lean-to. I found Emily and Erick cooking eggs and bacon over the flames in the ADA compliant fire pits with swing out grates.
Later I hiked for miles through the woods on the accessible trails and up a ramp on the camp pontoon boat to go around the lake. We heard that nearby Long Lake put on one of the best 4th of July fireworks shows in the Adirondacks.
After a supper of apples, sausages and leeks, the family made their way to our accessible SUV, then bounced along the two-mile access road to John Dillon Park, turned south on the road 30 and headed for Long Lake.
Everyone and their sister were in town, dining at restaurants, carrying chairs to the town beach, positioning their boats to see fireworks and listening to classic rock and country performed by Grit and Grace.
Fireworks exploded over the lake. The mountains echoed with each explosion. The final exploded in a grandiose way.
Back at the Red Fox lean-to, I lay down as I prepared for sleep and reflected on my Independence Day. It all started with a sunrise. It ended with fireworks.
Could it have been better?
Just then, a loon yodeled in the darkness.
Mike Hirsch is opinion writer for The Morning Call.