Camping at Keuka State Park NY: Making Memories in the Rain

Camping at Keuka State ParkThe wholesome family experience of camping is not limited to clear starry nights and chasing fireflies. In 2004, a stormy night on a hill gave camping a whole new perspective for this mom from New York.

Jackie was determined to make camping a part of her children’s lives. School was still in session and preparations had begun several weeks earlier. Jackie booked a tent-site for a weekend in late spring.

Keuka State Park, New York

Keuka State Park is a beautiful campground in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. Jackie reserved a campsite high on the hill for a Friday night. That same night, later to be discovered, was when the school’s fifth-grade dance was scheduled. Jackie allowed each of her two children to invite a friend overnight for the camping fun. The dance was an inconvenience, but Jackie didn’t want to disappoint the children. They eagerly anticipated both camping and the dance for over two weeks.

Anticipation is half the fun. In this case, maybe more than half.

Before the Camping Trip

A day before the camping trip, the unfortunate weather forecast only slightly dampened their spirits. It was too late to back out now without breaking hearts. The rain started Thursday. Friday, the day of departure, school was cancelled due to flooding. This should have been a warning sign for Jackie, but the new $69.00 tent beckoned to her.  School was cancelled, which meant she wouldn’t have to leave the campground to return in the evening for the school dance.

Arriving at the Campsite

They arrived at the soggy tent-site early – Jackie, her two children and only one friend. The other friend, Emily, had injured her arm and was getting a cast applied in the Emergency Room.  The time they gained by arriving early was soon lost with another trip to the big box store; the $69.00 tent lacked tent-poles. You get the idea.

Tenacity was Jackie’s strength. She returned to the site and put up her new, hopefully waterproof tent. The children played together, rode bikes, hiked, admired the flowers and climbed the trees. Their sneakers gave way to bare feet as they splashed through the mud.

Emily later arrived with her new cast. Somehow, the news came that the school dance was still on for that evening. Four children piled into the mini-van and they all (of course, including Jackie) made the trek to town. It is unclear to this day where they changed or how they groomed themselves in time for the dance.

Back and forth again, after dark, Jackie returned to the site tired and ready to relax by the campfire. Campfires were Jackie’s favorite part of camping. The kids piled into the $69.00 tent and played flashlight games and talked about the dance.

The Storm

Just then, the sky erupted. This was not a warm spring rain that cooled as it lightly misted your skin. This was a thunderous downpour that demanded that all living things hunker down or get out of the way. Lightning bolts cracked open the sky and thunder vibrated the hills. There was no cell phone service, but word about the road conditions somehow arrived. The road was nearly washed out and there were tornado warnings issued to the nearest towns.

Fearing for their safety, Jackie ordered the kids out of the tent, through the pouring rain and into the van. Images of tents flying through the air and front page headlines of children being scattered across the county flashed through her mind. Jackie was pretty sure that she and her kids would be safe, but the added responsibility of the childrens’ friends meant that Jackie could not take any extra risks.

Now soaked from the dash through the storm, and with no dry clothes in the van, Jackie had to make a decision: was it safer to drive the van home through the storm, in the dark, on possibly washed out roads? Or was it safer to stay in their present location on top of a hill in a tent during a lightning storm with tornado warnings?

Looking Back

Looking back, Jackie is not sure how to justify her decision. She knew the kids were relying on her. More was at stake than just wet feet. This was about endurance, strength and courage.

Jackie put on her bravest face and turned to the children huddling in the van. In her strongest, most assured voice, she said, “Oh! Come on, we can do this!”

Back through the downpour to the water-filled tent they went. It took only a short time before all the kids were asleep. Jackie, however, barely slept a wink that night.

Now, years later, the camping experience is just that: an experience. For the children, it was one night of many, in a tent, playing flashlight games. They probably don’t even remember the tornado warnings. Jackie, though, knows that despite missing tent poles, broken arms, mud puddles and school dances, endurance prevailed. Not only did the camping experience create memories for her children, but it created strength and courage for herself. Maybe everyone would have ended up hating camping had Jackie just given in and gone home. This lesson was not only for the children, it was for Jackie too.  They all could weather a storm.

Author: Jackie Cochrane

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