The 6-Weewee Camping Adventure

River of the month #73

author: Pat Reilly
date: October 2004

Adventure is where you find it. And if you look hard enough, it may turn up very close to home. Adventure also depends on how you define it. While some may need a multi-day trip to the wilderness, I am learning to seek adventure in simpler surroundings through the eyes of a child. When a father and his 5-year old son set out together for a night on the river, you can be sure it will be an adventure for at least one of them, no matter where it is.

My son Tony is less than enthusiastic when it comes to outdoor pursuits. By his own admission he prefers life ‘inside’. He doesn’t even like to get his feet muddy for God’s sake! But he does love playgrounds – ‘weewees’ he calls them (as in what you yell while zipping down a slide). This past summer I found myself needing some serious relaxation after too much work at the job and on the house. So I devised a plan that would allow both father and son to enjoy some of their favorite leisure activities and, most importantly, to do it together. Thus the great ‘6 weewee camping adventure’ was born.

As any businessperson will tell you, the first step to a successful endeavor is the PR. You’ve got to sell it! So I started the 6-weewee advertising campaign a few days before the weekend. Tony was already familiar with the mulit-weewee concept, having gone on his first 4-weewee hike 2 winters ago. And he had been canoe camping for the first time a few weeks ago just before his 5th birthday. So playing up the trip for a few days before hand was all that was needed. In spite of being a timid outdoor kid, he was ready to roll when we set out on mid-afternoon.

We put in at weewee #1, Acri Meadow Park in East Pennsboro Township, along the Conodoguinet Creek. My wife dropped us off and took the car, leaving us with 6.5 miles of creek and Susquehanna River to paddle home. I loaded gear in the boat, then watched Tony play with many other kids. Families were taking advantage of perfect August weather with some big cookouts. After 45 minutes Tony’s new friends lined the bank to watch us take off.

Next up was an unscheduled hike through the woods and wetlands near the Magaro Road Bridge to visit an old friend - a Mr. Magaro (who else?). Tony grumbled a bit, as he had to get his feet muddy. But it was a short visit and we moved on soon enough for weewee #2. This one is a favorite of Tony’s, the big playground at the corner of Magaro Road and Center St. in West Enola. It’s part of a large park with many athletic fields. The park has a fishermen’s trail that leads to the creek. We used it in reverse to get to the park. Tony was delightfully surprised to discover where he was. He sprinted for the playground when he caught sight of it! I played with him then read a magazine while he played.

Back on the creek, a fellow CCGH club member yelled out to us as we passed her house. Tony was puzzled to hear his name called out, but I recognized the voice and the location and we paddled over to say ‘Hi’ to Nan. Further down we ran across another friend with his 4-year old and some neighbor kids in a little rubber raft having a creek adventure of their own. We stopped to hang with them for a bit. In addition to these friends we saw another canoe, a makeshift raft and a trio of fly fishermen (and fisherwomen) on the 3-mile stretch of creek that we paddled the first day. With so many after-dark, off-season exercise trips on the Conodoguinet, where I see no one else, it was good to see folks using the resource for once, on this fine summer Sunday.

Weewee # 3 involved another short hike on trails up through the woods. Tony was again surprised when we came out at one of our favorite sledding spots, Camp Hill Park. We reminisced about past winter trips to the park (including the disastrous Daddy-broken-ribs/Tony-busted-lip day) as we made our way up the hills to the playground equipment.

Then it was time to find a camp spot. The stretch of creek, below the Center St. Bridge, is wooded on both sides with some great alluvial wetlands at the bottoms of steep hills. But it’s tempered with plenty of development - office buildings and homes, on the hilltops and back from the creek. However, it’s not noisy and you can’t see much of the buildings with summer’s foliage. Long areas of stream bank are posted but I had my sites set on the only island on the lower Conodoguinet. When scouting the island we checked out a large red fox that was checking us out from river right. We got quite close, as the fox never did spook. He merely schlepped into the woods a few feet and sat back down. The creek corridor also allows bird life to flourish here in the suburbs. We saw 4 heron species on our way to the island.

I found our spot at my second scout stop, an existing fire ring in a bit of a clearing at a place where the island’s bank is heavily shaded with overhanging ash and maple trees. Perfect! We quickly got a fire going and I cooked macaroni and cheese with broccoli while Tony did a hot dog on a stick. Then for the second camp trip in a row, Tony decided he was ready for bed all on his own. What’s up with that? At home it’s world war III every night to get him into bed! I tucked the little guy in his small tent and rigged my hammock (now my preferred camp sleeping method) right outside. There was a bit of a droning noise coming from the Blue Shield building (probably the air conditioner chillers), and the occasional car on Possum Hollow Road. But overall, it was more peaceful than anywhere along the main stem Susquehanna, where you put up with constant highway and railroad noise.

After breakfast and loading the boat, I located some bluegills and Tony was able to catch the first 2 fish of his young life. We were in no hurry that morning as we moseyed on down to weewee # 4, on river right at the West Creek Hills housing development. Tony played alone on this peaceful Monday morning as I sat on the swings and read.

On to the mouth of the creek at West Fairview and a very muddy takeout on river left upstream from the bridges. Weewee # 5 was a new one for Tony, the only one he hadn’t been to. But it disappointed as it had only swings. So in a short time we hit the mini-mart for lunch. Then a short trespass on the railroad tracks across a high bridge, find a trail up the big hill with the great overlook, and on to weewee # 6, a small Wormleysburg Borough playground. Down the trail back to the creek and test Tony to see if he realized that we would be on the opposite side of the creek from the boat. Sure enough, he knew. We forded the creek together, got back in the boat and made our way 1.5 miles down the Susquehanna to home, arriving a little less than 24 hours after departing.

I was very much in need of a get-away that weekend and at the same time desperately wanted to spend time with Tony. That little trip fit the bill perfectly. It does my heart a world of good to know that family adventure such as this (as passive as it may be) awaits right outside the front door.

Pat Reilly

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