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Adirondack campfires

June 3, 2012
By DON WILLIAMS , For The Leader Herald

Do you know where the first official, organized, American campfire was held? Why, it was in New York state's Adirondack Mountains, of course! The newly organized Boy Scouts of America held their first campfire at Silver Bay on Lake George in 1910. The YMCA was an early promoter of Englishman Sir Robert Baden Powell's boy scout movement and offered their Adirondack center for the organizing of the boy scouts under one administrative body.

The first was the Scout Camporee at Woodworth Lake near Gloversville and the second was at the annual Methodist Family Camp on Lake Sherman near Warrensburg. When I attend a traditional Adirondack campfire program, it brings back all those memories of the campfires-gone-by that I attended in my younger camping days. It is an experience that should be part of every child's life - one that would remain with him or her always.

"Campfire," the word itself reeks of a woodland experience from the gathering of the wood, calling on our scouting skills to get the fire burning, gathering the friends and relatives to sit around the fire, telling the campfire stories, singing the campfire songs, while listening to the crackling fire, and watching the dancing flames and glowing coals. With the addition of cutting some maple sticks and roasting the marshmallows for the traditional s'mores, chocolate bars and graham crackers, all our senses become satisfied in one all-consuming encounter.

The Boy Scout's always conduct a well-organized campfire at their outdoor gatherings, complete with awards, song and stories. Woodworth Lake Scout Reservation, one of the finest scout camps in our nation, has a hillside lakefront campfire ring with benches that provides a perfect setting for a campfire experience. The corps of volunteers who support the scouting program are dedicated and run a "tight ship," the scouts are busy, attentive, and enjoying the "out-of-doors"-so needed in today's "indoor world."

The campfire program at the church camp is, likewise, well-organized with a campfire ring complete with adjacent pavilion. The annual family camp gives us the opportunity to be surrounded by many of our family members, a number of longtime friends, new families, and the camp staff. Our son, Stuart, has served as "campfire master" over the years based on his past experiences in boy scouting and with our family activities. He calls upon the singers and storytellers, leads a few campfire yells and keeps the program organized. A good campfire needs an enthusiastic leader.

We have gathered many of the traditional stories, songs, and yells used by campfires from the Forks to Timbuktu. They live in oral tradition, unpublished, and passed down through the years. Do these bring back your memories-the echo yell, the enlarging machine, six pence, the mind reader, the ugliest man, the infant tree, the fire cracker yell, the watermelon yell, Do Your Ears Hang Low, jump Jones jump, the Chinese yell, wrap wrap wrap, the chip-chop yell, or the BL yell? Remember KumBaYa and Taps? Put them all together with the campers, the flaming fire, and a warm summer night and you have the best of life's experiences.

It is good that campfires still burn in the Adirondacks bringing that memorable experience to the next generation. We are thankful that those mountains and woods are still there in our urbanized state and those campfires can burn on a starlit night. And we can be comforted to know that there is a new generation of "campfirers" who will protect our Adirondacks in years to come.



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