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iBerkshires.com Columnist Section

Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Campers Looking To Happy Holidays

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Thursday, July 20, 2006

Historic Valley Campground managers Larry and Jean Neal.
North Adams - At Windsor Lake's Historic Valley Campground, campers may soon be applying sunscreen as they drape campsites with tinsel.

Beginning July 21, the campground will celebrate "Christmas In July," one of the special events planned by campground managers Larry and Jean Neal and volunteer activities directors Michelle Biagini and Theresa Trumble.

Holiday Season At Camping Area

On the holiday agenda for on-site campers is a Friday evening showing of the movie "Elf," a Saturday afternoon tree-trimming event, hayride with "Santa," and a children's gathering at the campground Christmas tree. Gingerbread house crafting is scheduled to occur on Sunday.

A little out of season, yes, but according to the Neal family, special events and activities are helping to restore the family camping area to exactly that, a family camping area.

Neal and his wife are in the midst of their fourth season as campground managers. Since assuming the reins of the May to October city owned campgrounds, the couple have restored one children's playground to a safe and child-friendly arena and, with much assistance from several repeat, seasonal campers, erected a second playground for children, Larry Neal said.

Numerous areas of brush have been cleared, flowers have been planted, and the Neals purchased and erected two large canopies, with one designated as a children's space equipped with a long picnic table for board games and coloring and the other meant for a social area for adults. Smokers are required to smoke in an area that is some distance from both the adult and children's canopied areas, Larry Neal said.

A Family Campground...And He's Not Kidding

He minces no words when describing what is acceptable campground conduct and what is not.

"We are a family campground and we insist that it remain a family campground. We do not condone drinking parties."

In fact, those who ignore Neal's cautions about appropriate conduct at the time of registration and who engage in loud, raucous behavior or host guests who are unwilling to comply with park behavior standards are likely to be asked to leave, Neal said.

The campground opened about 37 years ago as primarily tent-style camping area. The property currently hosts 100 campsites with most equipped with water and electricity. About 55 to 60 sites are open for short-term campers; the remaining sites are occupied by year-to-year "regulars," the repeat campers who book their sites for the five month season, Neal said.

The grounds are equipped with laundry facilities and firewood and ice are available on the premises. A section dubbed "the wilderness area" hosts sites for those who enjoy "roughing it" with tents and without electricity. Windsor Lake hosts a public beach for non-campers and campers have access to a private beach. Boat and canoe rentals are offered.

"We usually have room for campers with the right notice," said Jean Neal. "If someone calls 24 hours in advance, we can usually put them somewhere."

Day Camp Friendly

The campground area hosts area day camp programs. On July 19, the R.O.P.E.S. Camp was operating at the campground, as was the Mary Jezyk Sunshine Camp and Camp Abernacki. Next week, a science program is expected to host sessions at an on-site, roofed pavilion.
The pavilion is also available to the public as a rental space, Larry Neal said. Those interested in using the space must make a reservation and notify campground managers about the event to be held there. The cost is $75 per event.

Over the past weekend, a birthday party was held at the pavilion, he said. The pavilion is outfitted with a stove, a freezer, a microwave oven and a refrigerator, most of which have been donated to the campgrounds, Neal said.

"So there is a workable kitchen," he said. "That was here and was functioning the first year that we came as managers."

Upcoming campground events include a sand castle contest and a pig roast and dance for the Aug. 12-13 weekend and a Halloween celebration that is slated to occur Sept. 1, 2, and 3. Campsites are expected to be decorated with Halloween items, campground guests will be able to trick-or-treat at campsites, hayrides are on the schedule and a dance is planned as well.

A campground store offers many necessary items and "the coffeepot is always on," said Jean Neal.

"The coffee is free," said Larry Neal.

The city purchased a computer and a printer for the campground since the Larry and Jean Neal were hired as managers, and a campground business program was installed on the computer.

Jean Neal takes care of office duties while Larry Neal handles the remaining tasks. Kathy Church and Linda Neal, daughters of the couple, and a grandson, Tim Church, also help out, according to the couple.

"We Love It Here"

During the winter months, Larry and Jean Neal live in Florida.

"We love being here, we see it as an accomplishment," said Larry Neal."And we love all the families that visit here. We are hearing from people who have heard about the changes we've made and are coming back to camp. If you want to have fun and camp in a great family atmosphere, this is the place to come. We've gotten to a point where it is mostly families coming here and it's wonderful."

Campsite rates vary by type of site and length of stay.

Those interested in camping at the Historic Valley Campgrounds are asked to call 413-662-3198 to make reservations or to acquire additional information.

Susan Bush may be reached at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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