Camp Saratoga: Tradition Soldiers On

“May God grant peace to those who have given their last full measure of devotion”

Camp Saratoga, now part of the Wilton Wildlife Preserve & Park, was developed by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a Boy Scout Camp.  Shortly before the end of World War II, a plaque bearing the above inscription was placed underneath the meeting area flagpole in memory of those who willingly offered their lives so that their descendants could enjoy the benefits and responsibilities of living in a free nation.

While the Camp Saratoga 8 km Snowshoe Race is a recreational event and not a life or death struggle, there is a certain measure of honor incurred by all the participants who extended themselves to the limits of their physical fitness and by all the volunteers who put aside their daily lives to aid them on their journey.   For most it was a chance to enjoy a beautiful day in the woods, for many an opportunity to earn Dion Snowshoe Series points and for some it was a challenge to qualify for the Dion Snowshoes United States National Snowshoe Championship held this year in Wisconsin. For snowshoe newbie Mark Haworth, an accomplished runner who expected six-minute miles, it was a definite wake-up call. . . While his 46:22 minute time placed him in the top third, an initial slip of a frozen finish line finger recorded him at five hours.  Retaining his sense of humor, Mark declared, “It felt like longer!”  For all, it was a day to be thankful and to celebrate our good fortune.

As we lined up at the start, Race Director Jeff Clark (photo, Jeff at Line) introduced the day’s heroes.  First was Ken Clark (photo, bottom), celebrating his 100th Dion Series Snowshoe Race.  This achievement recognizes the perseverance it takes to stick with a long term goal year in and year out.  Amazingly, he is the sixth person to attain this honor, proving how seriously we as a group take our sport.

Continuing the Army Strong (photo, tan shirt, looking Army)! tradition was a trio of 10th Mountain Division soldiers from Ft. Drum, NY.  The 10th Mountain Division was activated in World War II to provide an answer to Germany’s winter-ready troops.  Those who survived went on to establish major ski areas throughout the United States.  One notable graduate had remarkable success with his wife’s waffle iron and produced the iconic Nike waffle trainers.

The soldiers’ pre-race warmup was a little different this year. Peggy and Andy Keefe and their daughter Patricia comprise our loyal kitchen crew—no small job considering post-race treats rival a hotel buffet spread.  They have gotten the system down to a science with casserole warmers, hot dog rotisseries and numerous folding tables.

This year, we were treated to several unloading slots only a few hundred meters away from the Winter Lodge.  Peggy, however, was unsure how to approach this desirable location and focused on the deceptively solid snowmobile trail. You know what happened next –she carved out her own unique parking spot, ultimately resting her fenders on the snow and suspending her tires mid-air, giving new meaning to the phrase “spinning your wheels and going nowhere.”  Clearly a job for Army Strong!  And they did not disappoint.

Camp Saratoga twins with Spa Park’s Winterfest Snowshoe Race in a twofer deal, but measuring in at 8K it is truly the tougher partner.  Many of the trails double as cross-country ski venues, and if you have ever skied, you will know that a vital part of the equation involves up and down motion.  While the groomed portion is theoretically easier, you never get the opportunity to activate cruise control.  And then there is the final out-of-category kilometer and a half. As you hurl down the narrow lake trail you hear cheers and see the finish.  But as Jeff delights in pointing out, “The finish line is not for you.”  You must still soldier on, tackling the toughest series of steep single track hills on the way to a blessedly downhill finish.

In spite of my home course advantage, I am unclear if I ran fairly well or fairly middling.  While I certainly knew what to expect and finished the race in George Sheehan “no regrets” mode, the results are puzzling.  Math should be fairly straightforward, but a painful scrutiny of the Dion Percentage points indicates that I earned a piddling 24.07 %, based on Tim Van Orden’s winning 100 percent (photo, leading start).  I usually end up somewhere in the 30’s on an average course, in the 40’s or 50’s on a more difficult one.  I know that makes no sense but the hard-packed events tend to favor those with greater leg speed, while the tougher ones even things out for the rest of us.  This is one of the aspects I love best about this sport: run enough races with varying snow conditions and everyone gets their chance to shine.

But if you calculate in a more personal way, my placement left a lot of wiggle room.  On the one hand, Jim Carlson and my current rival, Brad Herder were well ahead, but on the other I was right where I should be behind Jen Ferriss and Maureen Roberts.  So either I did OK, really well, or as expected.  Go figure.  I guess all that proves is that for each one of us every race is different.

At WMAC’s Hawley Kiln event, Edward Alibozek always urges us to take a warmup or cool down over to the old charcoal burning kiln.  Finally, he got tired of encouraging and rerouted the course to circle the Kiln for a no-excuses tour.  For the first time this year Camp Saratoga featured its own historic fire tower which no one actually saw unless they glanced to the left, through the woods, after climbing up a hill and on the precipice of a sharp descent.  I didn’t even bother mentioning this new landmark, knowing of the success Farmer Ed had getting us to tour the Kiln before it became a requirement.

One might question how an historic monument can be considered part of the cultural landscape when transported and erector settled in an entirely different location.  But in this case, I believe it is justified.  Just before the heavy snows came, the 1924 Fire Tower at Luther Forest was reassembled at highest point at Camp.  Luther Forest Corporation owner Alex Mackay is the great grandson of Thomas Luther who planted the forest that bears his name.  Luther’s son, Thomas, Mackay’s grandfather, found Scout Camp. Alex transported the fire tower as a fitting memorial to his grandfather.

Ever mindful of those who like to “collect” fire towers, Jim Carlson and I tried in vain to reroute the course, but the best we could do was circle the tower only to end up in parking lot #3 – not exactly a scenic or a safe option.  So next time you go to Camp, budget the time for an out-and-back detour and chalk up yet another fire tower.  Sections of this preserve are owned by the Town of Wilton, the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Nature Conservancy.  While this trio has necessarily differing goals, all are working to increase the size of the parcel and provide a large area of interconnected trails.  Participation in this event, as well as in the Saratoga Stryders’ Summer Trail Series, helps fund their acquisition plans and hopefully sometime down the trail we will be able to expand and bring you still more hills to conquer!

Winterfest Super Snow 

After Jeff and I finished marking the Winterfest Snowshoe course, we went to Saturday evening Mass and tried to blend in, snowshoe clothes and all. But Father saw right through us.  As he approached the lectern, he looked directly at me and said, “If any of you are still praying for snow, you can stop now!” He must have had the power of the righteous behind him because as we left church the snow turned to rain, then sleet.  Later on Jeff, Laurel Shortell and I witnessed thundersnow, an extremely rare phenomenon, with only 6.3 events being reported per year.  I’m not sure how the weather guessers came up with the .3, but from the force of the explosion, I would say we got a full point thanks to the power of the pulpit.

Fortunately, Father’s comment was interdenominational in nature: our snow held up just fine but the rain/sleet mix pleased those who were tired of shoveling. Which brings me to a puzzling observation.  Folks were wildly ecstatic about this year’s course, commenting that it was so much better than last year’s.  Well, naturally.  This year we had snow as opposed to last year when we had conceptual snow and ice.  The course was always the same. Jeff and I would like to take credit for not believing in global warming, but really, that’s as far as it goes.  I only wish we could point our magic wands and transform all the race sites to winter wonderlands.

Still, this year proved so liberating!  Instead of worrying about snow, we could direct our full attention to the race itself.  Usually, this time of year I rather envy road race directors since there is no question whether or not they will have a road.  And if for some reason a particular stretch of road caves in, there is always another waiting to take up the slack. As usual, I ran the race, but more as an afterthought than as a competitor.  I so much enjoy seeing others have a good time on a day Jeff and I designed especially for them.  Now, a week later I have no memory of how I did or how I felt when I did it.

Which of course proves that I should have written this a lot sooner, but also indicates how race director mode intrudes –is that course marshal in the proper location?  Are the orange flags still waving at attention?  Are the chronoprinters functioning properly?  The orchestral effort is so much more overriding than individual performance.While most Americans were focused on the evening’s Super Bowl activities, we were content with winning the pre-game snow betting pool for our Super Snow party.  Who knows?  If we can maintain our streak we may even change the landscape of sought-after events.  Currently that record is held by the Turkey Trots, Turkey Raffles and Gobbler Gallops crowning Thanksgiving Day as the most popular race date in the United States.  But now that Superbowl seems to be as much of an excuse to party as an athletic event, we need to reassert our puritanical roots and earn our chips and dip.  This Winterfest Sunday we were all winners, enjoying wonderful snow, friendly competition, and a pre-game pot luck.  Perhaps this can be the start of a new trend in celebratory running.

photo credits: Complete assortment of race photos. Search them: you’re there.

About the author


Laura Clark