Road Trip Dad –
Lake Placid - Full Circle
Dan Witmer | August 5, 2019
Happy 30th Birthday, Lake Placid Summit Lacrosse Classic!

I don’t have a plan for how many articles I’ll write this week; we’ll just have to play it by ear. In the past, I’ve written anywhere from one to five or six articles during this favorite but busy week, but as for this year, well, your guess is as good as mine… no promises.

Over the past seven years, I’ve written about the people, the trip, the games, the teams, and more. If you’re a lacrosse person, then this is where you want to be this week – it’s that simple.

But to start things off this year, I’m gonna go way back, even further back than I did last week. I’m going to tell you about my first ten years or so up in these parts – before the Summit Classic was even born…

As I described last week, I grew up on Long Island, but that didn’t stop my family from taking some amazing summer vacation trips. You see, I probably spent more time in the Adirondacks while I was growing up than I did at Jones Beach.

My family loved camping. We started with a tent, which led to a pop-up camper, which led to a travel trailer, which eventually – and invariably – led to a mobile home, but I’m getting ahead of myself. We sampled campgrounds public and private in NY, PA, and throughout New England, but by the mid-60’s, my parents decided that Fish Creek Campground was the best they’d ever found. From about 1965 or so on, they stopped trying out new places. “Why go anywhere else?” they said, and my three brothers and I all agreed.

In fact, my Dad’s two brothers and their families all came to the same conclusion, so we’d coordinate our trips and somehow manage to fill three adjacent campsites. Some years we’d stay for one week; other years we stayed for two. There were a few years where we actually drove up here twice in the same summer. I told people that I grew up spending summers in the Adirondacks, and that wasn’t much of an exaggeration.

Memories from those summers, from approximately 1965 until 1974, are deeply etched into my brain…

We climbed St. Regis, Ampersand, Haystack, and Mt. Marcy.

We took day-long canoe trips from Rollins Pond, to Floodwood Pond, to Upper Saranac, and back into Fish Creek.

Limited to our old, canvas, Old Town canoe, we rented a speed boat for a day each summer and water skied all day long. Cousins lined up to wait for their turn. After a few years, my Dad and his brothers chipped in and bought an old ski boat. My brothers and I were the crazy skiers dressed in clown suits (made by my Mother) who rode around at dusk each night, banging pots and pans and blowing horns to playfully say “good night” to all the campers at Fish Creek. And then there was the year we tried ski-jumping. With no jump available, we simply made our own – our campsite’s picnic table sufficed, partially submerged at an angle that put us into the air for at least three or four feet! Talk about classic home movies!

We were always entertained; we went to the drive-in and we went to 1,000 Animals – both were located on the Sara-Placid Road but are long gone today. Heck, we even joined other tourists at the town dump, waiting for and then watching the bears as they sorted through the trash.

Before there was Ben and Jerry’s, we had Mountain Mist, Crystal Springs Dairy, and Custard ‘n’ Mustard, not to mention the ice cream wagon that drove around Fish Creek every night.

Our campsites were filled with hammocks, bikes, our canoe, and a volleyball net. We’d bring a sledgehammer and nails and build – or rebuild – our own dock every summer (some years we pulled it out of the lake before leaving and hid it in the woods so we’d have it the next year). We sat around the proverbial campfire, listened to my cousin play guitar, made s’mores, sang songs, and rattled off every bad joke we could think of.

Then, in 1974, it came to a sudden end – at least, for me.

Word came to our campfire one night that the Eagle Island Girl Scout Camp, located in Upper Saranac Lake, had fired some of its kitchen staff and was desperately looking for some mid-summer replacements. I was 14, and I had brought enough clothes for a week of camping. My Dad said, “If you don’t take this job, I will.” I don’t think he was kidding. My Mom said she’d send me more clothes. Next thing I knew, I was working at a Girl Scout Camp for the rest of the summer.

As things turned out, the kitchen at Eagle Island in 1974 led to a kitchen at Camp Lou Henry Hoover in New Jersey in 1975. The Lou Henry Hoover kitchen led to Rawhide Ranch’s kitchen from 1976 through 1982. I was a working man, now – no time to vacation in the Adirondacks!

The summers at Rawhide meant working with Tony Seaman, my high school varsity lacrosse coach, whose brother was the owner. It also led to tremendous friendships with people from all over the country. In 1982, I fell for one of the athletic directors and went on to marry her three years later; our 34th wedding anniversary is in a few weeks.

After 1982, my summers were spent in Oswego – graduate school, reffing, and recruiting as the head lacrosse coach at Oswego State. Lacrosse became a 12-month way of life.

Our boys were born in 1989 and 1991, and we tried to introduce them to the majesty and beauty of the Adirondacks, but they only got a small taste, and they were very young. Everything up here has been new to them since they started working at the LPSC.

Looking back, little did I know in 1974 that the Fish Creek years were pretty much over. The ’80 Olympics weren’t even on the radar yet. I had just finished ninth grade, and my first spring of scholastic lacrosse. But who would have guessed that, some 12 years after we last “camped” with the boys – spending the day at Fish Creek with relatives, but spending the night at the Best Western in Saranac Lake – we’re all back here once again.

Brian, who pretty much lives in the Czech Republic now, and Eric, who lives in Denver, are both here with me now this week, working at the Summit, yes, but learning to love the Adirondacks more and more every summer.

In many ways, life has gone full circle.

It always does.

Drive carefully, everyone, and welcome to Lake Placid and the 30th annual Summit Lacrosse Classic!

- Dan Witmer daniel.witmer@oswego.edu

Dan Witmer is the author of two books.  The Best of Road Trip Dad – the Laker Lacrosse Collection  is an accumulation of 45 articles written for JustLacrosseUpstate between the years 2012 and 2018, about the history and traditions, the people, and the stories of the Oswego State men’s lacrosse program. The book is available on Amazon.com, and at the river’s end bookstore in Oswego, the SUNY Oswego College Store in the Marano Campus Center, The Sports Outfit on West Genesee Street in Fairmount, and Geared 2 Sports in Cortland.  ...and piles to go before I sleep - The Book of Wit  is his memoir describing his 33 year career teaching HS English and coaching at Hannibal Central School. It is available on Amazon.com and at the river's end bookstore.