Memorial Day camping: 'Four days of just doing what you want'

Lucas Pabst, 4, runs out of his family's tent while his father, Gary Pabst of Medford, Mass., puts it up for the holiday weekend Friday at Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic. His sister, Irene, 1, watches from the picnic table at their campsite.
Lucas Pabst, 4, runs out of his family's tent while his father, Gary Pabst of Medford, Mass., puts it up for the holiday weekend Friday at Rocky Neck State Park in Niantic. His sister, Irene, 1, watches from the picnic table at their campsite. Dana Jensen/The Day Buy Photo

East Lyme — While the weather reports forecast the possibility of rain throughout the weekend, campers at Rocky Neck State Park were enjoying partly sunny conditions and temperatures in the high 60s Sunday afternoon.

"It was supposed to be rainy and cold, but it's been beautiful," said Nathan Daniel of East Haddam, around 3 p.m. He was camping with his family and friends from Valley Bible Church in Haddam.

Others in his group commented that whatever the skies might bring, it couldn't compare to last year, when they said there was flooding.

"It was freezing cold. It was raining all over the place. We all had the stomach bug - but we stayed," Rebekha Devenny, of Haddam, a congregant in the church, said of last year's unofficial first weekend of camping season at the park.

All 150 camping sites were snatched up Sunday as expected, according to campground manager Liane Moos.

"The rain the past couple of days kept a few people away, not the diehard campers," she said.

Some campers lounged on blankets and read books, while others played sports and board games, the aroma of barbeque wafting through the air. For many, spending Memorial Day weekend at Rocky Neck is a decades-old tradition.

Diane Pisko and Lynette Nadeau, both of Southington, said their families and two other families have been coming to the park together for the weekend since 1987.

"We weren't all married yet," said Pisko, sitting in a foldout chair and reading a book as some in her group played badminton.

Now, their children are fully grown and still enjoying time with family, away from technology.

Pisko's daughter Kailey, 18, said she didn't bring her laptop and had only looked at her phone occasionally during the camping trip.

"It's four days of just doing what you want," she said.

The Valley Bible Church excursion also started in the '80s, when a group of three families decided to spend the weekend camping at the park.

Church custodian David Morrison, who was at the first campout in 1984, said that some years as many as 70 families stake out spaces. This year, he and his friend Daniel peg the number of families at about 30 or 40.

Asked what has changed over time since the tradition began, Morrison said, "The trees are a lot bigger."

Moos said that this year's camping season may include the revival of outdoor movie nights, something the park did years ago.

She said that she had found out on Sunday morning that crews were working to construct new seats at the park's amphitheater to accommodate the event. She said she didn't know whether the theater would be ready this season.

Around 4 p.m., lightning forced the closure of the beach a mile down the road from the camping sites.

Drew Bos of Guilford, N.H., cousin of Devenney, was walking back to the family camp site with his girlfriend.

"I don't feel like walking back in the rain," he said.

On the other side of the parking lot, a family continued barbecuing hot dogs and dancing to music as the sky threatened rain.

"Everybody else ran, but we decided to stay," said a woman named Tia.

t.townsend@theday.com

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