In 1963 Russell Baker, of Windsor, New York, was granted Tent Platform No. 1675 on Polliwog Pond. Russell and his children and grandchildren would enjoy the site until the state decided to end the permits in 1975. His grandson, Stephen Baker, wrote the following account of their experiences.
My Grandfather, Russell Baker became aware of these camps through some friends. He really wanted to be on Follensby Clear Pond but the permits were all taken. He decided that he would build on Polliwog Pond in such a manner that he could put in a trail and a dock over on Follensby.
He obtained the permit on July 9, 1963. He towed everything across the lake from Floodwood Road with a boat and barge that he had built in his barn. I was 19 months old at the time. Obviously I don't remember anything about that summer but have been told I was happy just hanging out watching the reflection of the water "twinkle" beneath the branches. It was an all hands on deck adventure that summer with my Grandfather (Russell Baker), Grandmother (Pearl Baker), Father (David Baker), Mother (Laura Baker) and sisters (Yvonne, Terry, Lorrie). Legend has it that it never rained during construction (which is pretty amazing to anyone that has spent any amount of time up there). In fact, the first rain came directly after the canvas was put over the trusses.
Once the tent site was completed they turned to the the process of making the path to Follensby Clear. They used all of the kids as markers to establish the fastest route. That path lasted for over twenty years past the time of the cabin coming down. By Labor Day everything was in place and we went on to enjoy the place for the next twelve years.
Some of my earliest recollections include packing up on Friday afternoon, waiting for Dad to get home. The six of us would all pile in our Ford station wagon and head North for the weekend. We would typically get there around midnight. My Mom and my sisters would start unloading things we'd need for the night and bring them to shore while I watched my Dad in the distance looking for the boat. We used that homemade boat for years and kept it chained it to a tree. He'd find it, bail it out and row over to get us. He wore some sort of coal miners head lamp on his head. I'd watch that light as it traveled all over during the process and as I saw the light getting closer I would get more and more excited. We'd cross the lake in silence and just stare up at that beautiful sky. As we came around the corner of the island/peninsula (depending on water level) we'd shine the light toward camp until we saw the small reflector placed at the end of the dock. We'd all just go to bed but it always felt like Christmas Eve to me as I couldn't sleep, too excited for the day ahead.
As a young child I would be up at the crack of dawn and no one in the cabin shared my enthusiasm at that hour. I would grab my pole, tackle box and worms and head over to Follensby. Over there the sun was already shining brightly on the dock. I would go over and fish until someone came over to get me. When I was four or five I couldn't take the hooks out of the fish. I brought a large bucket with holes and I would take the hooks off the swivels and place the fish in the bucket. By the time my father came to get me he'd have about 50-some perch and sunny's to unhook. We'd bring the larger ones home slated for dinner. I ran that path with more joy than I've ever felt since. But when it would get a little darker, I would spook myself by looking into the woods and swearing that every overturned stump was a bear (we never saw a bear in all of those years). To counter the concern over the bears I would sing a Farmer In the Dell at the top of my lungs. Surely that sound would scare them away.
On a few occasions we visited some of the other "Platformers" on Follensby. I used to LOVE seeing how others dealt with their space. I went to a friend of my Grandparents one day and was just blown away. The people were quite old and I have no recollection of their names but what I do remember is that they had been there for 30 years! They had gas lamps mounted on the walls and of course all of the gas lines were exposed and the whole thing just looked cool. Another cool feature is that they had a path out to the road (Route 30). I thought that it was so cool that they could go to the store without using a boat! Their cabin was very near the boat launch. It may have even been the very first one that has a path to it from the launch. The old man also had something I was very jealous of-- he was immune to mosquito bites. I always came home from there bitten up from head to toe. I couldn't imagine this guy having this super human ability! There was another time that my whole family went to another cabin on Follensby for a family game night. This time, we went back to camp in the dark. I don't mind telling you that I really enjoyed the entire family singing a Farmer in the Dell with me . It was downright scary taking that path in pitch black darkness.
And so it went. I loved everything about the place. Our kitchen contained an old kitchen table, we had old high school lockers for cabinets, a kitchen sink and gas stove. There was a small screened in porch as you entered with a fish cleaning station. We kept our refrigerator out there as well. The sleeping area was just a sea of beds separated by make shift curtains and small aisles. I always tried to fall asleep first because if my father did I was toast. I swear he snored so loud you could see the canvas rise on the ceiling with each breath. On the trips where both he and Grandpa were there? Forget it! At the end of the sleeping area was an oil furnace which would instantly remove the dampness in the air and warm the cottage nicely. After dark everyone would jump on their beds and read. I even loved doing that up there and can still hear the sound of the Coleman lanterns.
When we would arrive to camp during the day we would always stop at the Trading Post across from Fish Creek. Little has changed with that building. I have pictures of my Grandfather in front of it, pictures of me at 17, pictures from last year. Back then I only went for my new comic book for the trip. It would eventually end up in a large cardboard box under my bed. Camp comic books never came home.
Every single morning that I woke up there without exception we had pancakes cooked on an old cast iron skillet. I can even remember how good they tasted with my "crunchy" milk. It was crunchy because our refrigerator kept things just a little too cold. Even the milk was better there. We would drive over to Hickok's Boat Livery where there was a vending machine for quarts of milk. I never saw one before, I haven't seen one since.
Hickok's had been in continual business for over ninety years. Like everything else, that changed this past summer. It was run by a family that, once their mother had passed, the boys put it on the market last summer. It's strange to think it may not be there this year. I'm sure the value is in the land and not the seasonal business of boat and canoe rentals. It no doubt will go by he way of the Wawbeek. The Wawbeek was a short distance from there and had been a great camp with multiple cabins and eventually became a resort. The business put a million dollars a year into the local economy but was purchased by a private party who tore down much of what was there for a private residence.
It seemed like from the very beginning the state was trying to get us out. They would continually change the rules. First they wouldn't allow you to take a tree even if it was threatening your cabin. Then, if a tree did hit your cabin, you were done. You weren't allowed to repair it. This led to an association of platform tent owners that would regularly check on the cabins during the winter and give the permit holder a heads up if something were to happen to the cabin. This allowed people to make the necessary repairs before the state could learn of it. Finally, they simply said you're done. My Grandfather passed away in December of 1974. He never had to see the sad end to the story. He did however see the beginning of the end.
In the fall of 1973, the state decided to "reclaim" Polliwog as a trout pond. They put a chemical in the water depriving everything of oxygen and all of the bass, perch, sunfish, bullheads and lake trout (no one knew they were already there) were floating atop of the water. A person that decided to hike back there to see what was happening said the place was just full of seagulls enjoying the ultimate buffet. It was never the same. We caught so many bass and perch over the years, that had been such a big part of our time there. I remember trolling the water with the silver #1 Meps spinners and getting one now and then. The last thing I vividly remember my grandfather saying to me... "they ruined our pond". It still echos in my ears. I felt so sad at that moment.
In 1975 they told us to get our stuff and leave. I never went back. I discovered years later that my parents had gone back and were surprised that our cabin was still there. It had obviously been broken into and someone had gone in and removed the oil furnace. They left a trail of soot making a complete mess of the place. They ended up going down to "Kathy's Cove". This was a cabin at the end of the lake which had the very best setting. There was a small peninsula with a sandy beach area on either side. It's namesake was a girl that was roughly the same age as my sister and the two of them would get together on the few times both families were there at the same time. We often would spend a week there without seeing another soul. They stayed at that cottage and it would be the last time. To be honest, I don't know if it had been torn down later that year or in 1976. I couldn't bear to see it.
The rest of my childhood was filled with renting cottages on various lakes. When I turned 18 I decided that I couldn't take it any longer, I had to go back. I camped on Follensby as Polliwog had the feeling of a grave site to me. I went to the site where our dock had been, shocked to see some of the braces for the dock remained. Of course, the state wasn't really looking for a dock there being there was no cottage. I made my way down our path which was still very much intact. As I looked over everything I almost laughed. We weren't really gone! My Grandfather over engineered everything and when he put the supporting piers in the ground he dug down 6 feet! Nearly all of them were still there! Then memories were just pouring in. I thought back of a day when Dad brought up some concrete mix to build a fire pit. My Grandfather never wanted us to have one convinced we'd burn down the forest. He waited until all of us had gone over to Follensby to fish. Follensby was where we kept "the big boat". Not really big by today's standards but it was an old fiberglass boat with a windshield, steering wheel and seats. We would anchor in the adjacent cove and we all could stand and watch the schools of perch surround the boat. The water was so clear you would pull your hook away from one to try to get a larger one to take it. Upon arrival back to camp we found that Grandpa had been doing some home improvement. We now had concrete stairs! Going back and surveying the site, there stood our concrete stairs. I kind of see it now as a gravestone.
I now have been camping every year for far longer than the cabin stood. On each trip I take a pilgrimage through the woods to visit the steps. Over the years campers have cut off the tops of the piers but remarkably, you can still find 3 or 4. The steps are getting a little rough but unmistakable. The path is long gone. I walk down to the water's edge via the "steps". A giant pine is perched beside the water and its roots form the steps. I have pictures of the family sitting on the steps from 1971. We put together a family reunion of sorts and the family rented a couple of cottages on Hoel pond which is just up Floodwood road from Polliwog. I gathered everyone to go with me to the steps and get an updated picture. We took a LOT of pictures that day. I believe it was 2007. Everyone was there except for my Grandparents and my Mom, as they had all passed by then. But Dad, my sisters, their significant others and all of our kids were there to share in that moment.
My camping up there has taken on a life of it's own. So many Follensby memories. I have a six-page spreadsheet of items to take. I have taken my son up there every year of his life. I get a permit as we spend as much as two weeks at a time up there. I have a cabin tent, a kitchen tent, my son's tent, my tent which is ridiculously large and a storage tent. I'm bringing the experience to new generations as I've taken my nephew, my great nephew and still bring my Dad up there (he's 86 now). I take my son around and can still point to the very log I would cast up against in the early morning before the family would wake. Yet the state still haunts me. They are developing a plan that would close half of the sites up there due to "overuse". Seriously? I can still find pockets where I don't see another living soul. They are restricting permits to one week (how many people really spend two weeks out there?) They are closing every site that I need to set up "the compound". They say they are too big? The locals have a practice they call "staging". They go up on a Thursday, set up their tent and leave knowing that they have the site when they arrive. What are my odds now? Will this cause the end of the new era? God I hope not. The thought that occurs to me is, can't they just wait? Let me live out my days with my lake? My Grandfather escaped it... I'm getting close in age to his when he died. I have even developed an immunity to mosquito bites! I'm now the old man.