RECENTLY, I RECEIVED a query from a longtime reader as to how I managed to get a camp on a leased lot on government land in the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Tract. This was not the first time I'd had this question.
It was not a matter of privilege. I'd had a lifelong dream of getting a camp on this certain pond - which I never name in print for fear of crowds - and it so happened that someone walked up to me on Colebrook's Main Street sidewalk, way back in the 1980s, and asked, "Did you hear that the lease for Nameless Pond is for sale?" At that time, it was regular industrial forestland and was not under any sort of public easement. Ergo, it was in no way "government land."
I had not heard about the lease becoming available, and rushed up to the proprietor of a restaurant, and said to the lease owner, "Hey, Bill, all I have in my pocket is ten dollars. Will you take it to hold the lease?" He did, and I had it. You can still do business here on a handshake.
Rudy Shatney, my second father, had taken me to this place when I was 13 or so, and I'd fallen in love with it. If I could ever have a camp there, I told myself, it would be bliss.
And so, 40 years later by happenstance, I bought the lease, which is essentially a pin-prick on the map - you own nothing but the ability to have a camp there.
A year or so after I got the lease, Vickie Bunnell and I trekked through beaver swamps and around various hardwood nubbles and found the perfect place for a camp. She was killed, along with my editor and two state trooper friends, in the Colebrook shootings of 1997.
For years, I could not even think of doing anything with my lease. But in 2002 it was time to move on.
As the self-styled walking boss, I formulated plans. Somehow word got out all over the continent. In the fall of 2004 it all came together. Upwards of 30 people showed up, two from Alaska. We had a huge staging area tent at the nearest log landing. We trekked a mile to work on the camp and a mile out. The scene at the staging area was, to put it mildly, wild. But we built the camp in three days (well, okay, the roof took a bit longer).
The first piece of furniture that went in, strapped to a main-frame pack on my back, was a rocking chair Vickie had given me for a birthday. We are a camp of readers. There is an evolving library in a far corner.
But here's the thing. It's not "government land." It's land owned by an investment timberland company that practices sustainable logging. As a result of the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters Tract initiative, there will never be any commercial development of the 171,500 acres and it will be forever wild, and you and I and our descendants will be forever able to gain access.
For the by and by, my co-lessee Kevin Shyne and I pay $1,400 per year for our pin-prick on the map, for our hike in and for the struggle to maintain a back-country camp. And the company leaves its lands open to traditional recreation, including hunting.
And hiking. Which means that my camp porch, if you can find it (and good luck), is open to perch and picnic, and is sheer bliss.
Write to John Harrigan at email@example.com or Box 39, Colebrook 03567.