Ranger Mel and Ranger Nick helping camp goers with setting up the tents.
Ranger Mel and Ranger Nick helping camp goers with setting up the tents.

Over 500 folks signed up to win one of only ten coveted spots to get to camp in Pelham Bay Park at Orchard Beach this past Saturday.

Unfortunately I didn’t win but fortunately my friend and neighbor did and was gracious enough to extend two of four spots allotted per group to us. Naturally I said yes.

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We arrived at Orchard Beach at the appointed time of 6PM, unpacked our car and trekked our way towards section 1 just outside the entrance that leads to Twin Island and Two Tree Island. We were greeted by our rangers for the evening, Deli, Nick, and Mel, who gave us our tents and provided some basic assistance on how to set them up. You know, being city-slickers, such knowledge isn’t quite innate to our kind.

Shortly after 7PM, all 10 groups of friends and family had settled down, tents propped up and we were summoned around the yet-to-be-lit campfire for some introductions, basic rules and going over the itinerary for the event. In order to get to know our fellow campers better, Ranger Nick had us play several games, providing an ice-breaker for all.

Ranger Nick starts up a fire for the night.
Ranger Nick starts up a fire for the night.

After he taught us several different methods of starting a campfire, we were given about an our to come back and cook up any of our foods.  After dinner, Ranger Nick took us on the first hiking tour of the evening.

The first hike took us through the woods of  Twin Island and was the shorter of the two walks.  Along the paths, Ranger Nick taught us about various edible plants and not so edible plants. We also learned how to identify poison ivy and even its cure.  We couldn’t get to Two Tree Island because of high tide and the only way to get there is to walk across.

Ranger Nick shows us how to identify Jewelweed which is used as a remedy to poison ivy.
Ranger Nick shows us how to identify Jewelweed which is used as a remedy to poison ivy.

We then took a break after returning to camp and then headed for the longer of the hikes, this time through Hunter Island.  We were taught more about the history of Pelham Bay Park and Hunter Island which was once one of the 28 estates that made up the park.  We learned about how Hunter Island, once the old mansion was torn down when the city acquired the land, returned to its natural state and virtually no evidence of it once being inhabited could be found.

One interesting thing he pointed out was how the ferns, that once adorned gardens of the Hunter Island mansion, spread out and multiplied near where it once stood.

Throughout the night on both walks we spotted dear, skunks, rabbits and other woodland creatures (luckily we didn’t run into any coyotes) all under the bright light of the supermoon.  The children in the group were all in awe and very inquisitive about everything, questioning Ranger Nick and even remembering what he had taught us.

When we got back from Hunter Island, everyone went to sleep except our group who sat around the campfire with Ranger Mel and Ranger Nick and we learned more about what they do and which parks they work out of.  Around 2AM, when everyone was fast asleep, Ranger Nick took us out to Two Tree Island since low tide had approached and we sat on the rocks with only the sound of the buoy and the denizens of the forest to serenade us.

Exhaustion began to set in so we made our way back to the campsite and almost immediately fell asleep.

Our adventure ended around 6AM when we were woken up by the rangers since we had to be out by 7AM.  It was a beautiful experience in a wonderful park that has been a part of my life from childhood through the present.  Who would have ever thought that We’d ever have the opportunity to camp out in New York City’s largest park in front of Orchard Beach with the woods to our backs?

New York City should definitely increase resources and funding to such programs as they are great learning programs for people of all ages and great for kids to get them interested in science, nature and the environment.

Fret not if you missed this opportunity for there are several more to be held in the Bronx and throughout the city.  Here are the next events and registration days for the Bronx ones:

Friday, August 22, 2014
6:00 pm– 7:00 am
Van Cortlandt Park
718-548-0912
Online registration takes place on Wednesday, August 13, 2014

30 spots available

Saturday, September 13, 2014
6:00 pm– 7:00 am
Pelham Bay Park/Orchard Beach
718-319-7258
Online registration takes place on Wednesday, September 3, 2014

30 spots available

Make sure you visit http://www.nycgovparks.org/programs/rangers/registration on the above registration dates and may the odds forever be in your favor!

S'mores!
S’mores!
Supermoon rising over the Long Island Sound
Supermoon rising over the Long Island Sound
Playing some icebreaker games to get to know one another.
Playing some icebreaker games to get to know one another.
First time campers
First time campers
Rangers Deli, Nick and Mel.  Thanks to their wonderful guidance and hospitality, it was a wonderful event.
Rangers Deli, Nick and Mel. Thanks to their wonderful guidance and hospitality, it was a wonderful event.
Some of our neighbors.
Some of our neighbors.

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