Tuesday, July 6, 2010
Nature Park at Camp Zerbe Is a Wilderness Gem
With Oneida Lake shimmering just outside my bedroom window, the Oswego and Salmon Rivers and Lake Ontario about 30 miles north, I’m blessed to live within a half-hour’s drive of the best trophy fishing in the country. What’s more, it’s all in Oswego County, the most fisherman friendly spot in NY, where some of the best fishing is right at the side of the road.
Not surprisingly, then, sometimes I want less; like solitary moments on a pond surrounded by wilderness.
Well, the Creator made Oswego County an angler’s paradise. And the proof is in the water. You see, guys coming up here can fish the world-famous spots mentioned above in the morning, and spend the afternoon on lesser natural wonders like tiny glen brooks, ponds normally found only in mountain meadows, or the rarest fishing habitats of all, kettlehole lakes.
Kettlehole lakes were created at the end of the last ice-age. As the glacier retreated north, it left huge chunks of ice that were spawned underneath it by springs, or torn off the main ice sheet by gouges scoured out of the land. Their weight sunk holes into the ground and when they melted their water remained in the depressions, forming lakes.
Oswego has more than its fair share of these natural wonders. A couple, located on private property near Caughdenoy, are off limits to the public. But three of these gems sit in Camp Zerbe, a 540-acre nature park just north of Williamstown, on the eastern edge of the county.
Run by Oswego City-County Youth Bureau, Division of Parks and Recreation, Camp Zerbe traces it roots back to the early 1930s. It was founded by Fred Zerbe, superintendent of the Syracuse Boys Club, a man with great vision and sensitivity. It used to be a place for urban kids to get out of the city during the height of the Great Depression and find peace and natural beauty among the three kettlehole lakes set into the forest like tears of a grateful wilderness spared the saw and ax that leveled the surrounding woods.
“Fred Zerbe found this wooded hollow peaceful in a time of economic turbulence,” says John Hiller, keeper of the grounds. “Today, we try to stay true to his vision, providing a restful spot for anyone who needs a break from everyday anxiety. That’s especially important now as we face similar economic straits,” Hiller continues.
The easiest of three to reach, Lake Lorraine, is less than ¼ mile from the parking lot. You’ll have to walk down a groomed trail, through a spectacular forest to get there, but the sight is worth the trip. Cradled in a meadow, ringed by a thin bog crowned in water lilies and other indigenous marsh flora, the lake looks like a wilderness pond high in the Adirondacks. Ospreys, bald eagles, blue herons, you name it fly its friendly skies.
It has fish, too. I tried my luck and caught a five-inch pumpkinseed and a couple bullheads the same size on my favorite go-to bait, a Berkley Power Wiggler. Hiller informs me that others have told him the lake also has largemouth bass, but I didn’t fish long enough to catch one.
Not that I didn’t want to. You see, the trail down to the lake takes a sharp left. I almost kept following it but decided to go fishing instead.
After catching the last bullhead, my curiosity got the best of me and I hit the trail again. It skirts the water for a little ways before climbing back up the hill, to an opening shaded by some of the biggest pines I’ve ever seen. Indeed, upon closer inspection, I realized I wasn’t in a clearing at all, but in the open area cleared out of the forest floor by the deep shade created by the towering trees. It was an awesome feeling standing under such majesty. The last I felt that insignificant in the grand scheme of things was when I stood in a patch of old growth sequoias in northern California some 15 years ago.
A family-friendly place, Camp Zerbe has picnic areas, a play ground and an interpretive nature center. It’s open from dawn to dusk and there is no admission charged to drop in and visit. For more information, call (315) 349-3451 or 1-800-596-3200, ext. 3451, or go to http://www.oswegocounty.com/youth/CZerbe/Zerbe.html
Camp Zerbe is on NY 104, about eight miles East of I-81 exit 34.