Read our next History Matters guest column by Rich Loeber below!
By Rich Loeber
Starting in the summer of 1953, I spent several weeks every August, camping with my family at Fish Creek Ponds Campsite. Those summers cemented a love of the Adirondacks in my mind and, in my 50s, I made the move to Saranac Lake.
I spent my summers at Fish Creek with my older brother and sister and our parents. My father was the outdoors man, and he loved being in the woods. His love of the Adirondacks was born during family vacations in Indian Lake, but he chose Fish Creek because of the guaranteed lake front for each campsite.
Fish Creek was created by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in the early 1930s. In fact, it was a large CCC camp on its own while accommodating public campers. Over the course of 1931 to 1935, CCC workers extended the camp, built picnic tables, stone fireplaces, and facilities. The early campers were allowed to stay for up to two weeks for free. Fish Creek quickly became the most popular of the many state campgrounds that the CCC was building throughout the Adirondacks.
In 1935, the CCC created a rustic amphitheater in the woods. The state started showing movies for free at the amphitheater. This kicked up a good Adirondack battle with locals, claiming that the free campgrounds and free movies were taking money from local hotels and movie theaters.
When we vacationed at Fish Creek there was no reservation system. You just drove up, and if there were no sites available (a common occurrence), you would wait on line at the check-in station until a site opened up. You had to take what the ranger was offering if you wanted to stay. We used to pack up from our home near White Plains, and my father would drive all night to arrive as early in the morning as we could. This was before the NY Thruway was built, and we drove up Route 9 for much of the trip. It could easily take more than 12 hours to reach our destination. On at least one occasion, we had to spend a night waiting on line when there were no campsites available.
The facilities were spartan at best. Toilets were open pit, and there were no showers. I recall bathing in the lake, but that would not do these days. There was a good water distribution system for drinking and cooking, with a working spigot placed every few campsites. After a few summers, the facilities were upgraded to flush toilets, which was a huge improvement, along with showers (cold water only).
We often rented a flat bottom row boat from Hickok’s. They had a rental site right in the camp located roughly where the modern beach is today. Mr. Hickok made these boats that were very heavy and unwieldy, but perfect for kids. When we got older, we converted to renting a canoe instead.
Fish Creek continues to be very popular today. Those early CCC fireplaces and picnic tables are still in evidence at many sites. It will cost you $22 a night, but you can enjoy hot showers, RV facilities, and your choice of 355 campsites through a reservation system where you can choose a site in advance, assuming it is available.
Since moving here, I have encountered many locals who point to Fish Creek as their introduction to the area. I have many fond memories of camping, swimming, boating, hiking, and sitting by the camp fire. Today, I live just down the road and often make the choice to drive by Fish Creek when heading out for the day.
Find out more about Fish Creek and share your memories at Historic Saranac Lake’s website of local history.
Stay up to date on all the news and happenings from Historic Saranac Lake at the Saranac Laboratory Museum!