It is hard to figure where it all started, but it has certainly been a lifelong adventure.
I believe my first visits to Long’s Retreat were brief, just to see some friends for a couple hours, do a little swimming, or stop by the game room. But the first time I camped there on my own was a different story.
I was in high school when three buddies and I decided a night of camping followed by a day of swimming sounded really fun, especially with the chance to get out on our own a bit.
The excursion started routinely, setting up camp, checking out the girls, and generally doing whatever it is that boys will do. But it all fell apart not long after nightfall when one of my buddies got a little rambunctious, and it was downhill from there. For some reason, while most folks were starting to settle in for the night, the one buddy decided it would be funny to start letting out some kind of war whoops. Long’s Retreat was much smaller in those days, and as loud as he was whooping, he no doubt got the attention of most of the campground.
We kept begging him to quit, but that only seemed to encourage him, and before long the owner of the place showed up and gave us a firm warning. We figured the warning might be enough to settle the buddy down, and it did — for a few minutes. Then he was back it again. One or two more visits from the owner followed, with the last one including a message that if we could shut him up, we could stay for the night, as long as we were gone early in the morning.
He shut up. Until the next morning. Then he started whooping again. Another visit from the management came, and as you can imagine, they were none too happy. Furious would describe it better. Somehow though, if I remember correctly, the other three of us manged to convince them to let us do a little swimming before we hit the road.
Other visits followed, then one year a bunch of guys decided we’d like to spend Memorial Day weekend at Long’s Retreat. It became a tradition that lasted several years, and each year the number in a group grew, to the point that it got to be several groups and too many people.
Each year when we showed up, the management rolled their eyes, then told us we were welcome, as long as we camped in the most remote location on the grounds. We didn’t mind that much, since that was the closest place to a waterfall where we usually took our morning showers, washed our hair and brushed our teeth.
All good things must come to an end though, and after several memorable years, a couple others getting kicked out of the park, and the fact that we were not youngsters anymore, the Memorial Day weekend tradition came to an end.
But that did not mean the trips to Long’s Retreat ended. If anything, they became more frequent. And each time I showed up, the management guys gave me a look that said: Have a good time, but you know where to camp — back in the remote areas of the park where the campsites had no electric or water hookups.
Then one year I purchased a pop-up camper. And I needed electricity. So I went to sign-in at Long’s Retreat. They looked at me with that forlorn look again. “But I have a family this time,” I pleaded, promising to behave.
After seeing that I had a young lady and young boy with me, plus a camper, they conceded.
We picked a nice campsite along a stream complete with a rope attached to a tree that swung out over a creek. We used that same spot many times, and somehow over the years we fell into the good graces of the management.
Eventually, we got rid of the pop-up camper and graduated to renting cabins at Long’s. They served their purpose well, and the more we visited the place, the more my wife liked it. So much so that when some friends purchased campers and then permanent camping spots at Long’s Retreat, my wife decided we should join them.
So we did. Actually, we had two different permanent sites, both on the backside of the lake with water frontage where our two middle sons learned how to fish. We even had the obligatory golf cart to putt around in. They were wonderful years. The kids were young and loved the place. We’d keep the camper packed with spare clothes and such, and anytime we got the urge, we’d hop in the car and head for our little getaway.
But then the boys started getting older. And they became deeply involved in sports, year around. And before long we found ourselves making so many trips from the campground to a ball game or practice and back again that we didn’t have enough time to enjoy the place. So we sold the last camper.
By that time we had purchased a nice piece of property outside of town, with neighbors far enough away that if I wanted to let out a war whoop, I could, with no consequences. And, I no longer had much of an urge to set around a campfire with people immediately to my right and left when I could set around in a fire in my backyard with no one to bother to me.
But my wife never lost the longing for Long’s Retreat. So each year, sometimes more than once a year, (sometimes she has went without me) we pack up and head to one of the large rental units at Long’s. We will be making the trek again before long with the kids and grandkids all joining in the fun.
It usually takes a little coaxing from my wife to get me motivated for the trip. But once I’m there, the sounds and smells of four-plus decades of memories come rolling back, and it’s almost like I’m home again.
So get ready Long’s Retreat. Here we come again, with a new generation of rowdies in tow.
Jeff Gilliland is the editor of The Times-Gazette. He can be reached at [email protected] or 937-402-2522.