By Buffy Calvert
Perch Lake is described in The History of Delaware County, 1797-1880, as “…a lake or an immense spring covering 45 acres. [A contemporary camp website has expanded it to 52!] It is from 40-70 feet deep and contains nearly every variety of fresh water fish.”
Pickerel, catfish and perch abound and many an excited young camper has yanked his first “sunny” up from the placid water. Alas, because it is spring-fed, without an inlet for trout to spawn, this prince of fish is missing. Improving on nature, the current Perch Lake Association stocks the lake with trout every summer, to “catch and release,” of course. Dawn and dusk find the rowboats of quiet anglers drifting over favorite stretches of the lake.
Legend asserts that a meteor struck the earth to create the crater that is Perch Lake. The south end of the lake has been home to three summer camps, the north: one.
In 1930, Aaron and Ann Mirski bought the Frisbee farm (owned by Mary Sprague’s parents) on the south end of Perch Lake. They owned a boys camp on Tunis Lake and opened Camp Oquago, “Beautiful Princess,” as a “sister camp” for girls. The girls, including Barbara Dansky, a pretty girl whose family summered in one of the cottages surrounding the lake, took the train from Grand Central Station in New York and were met in Arkville by buses for the trek over the hill to camp. In the interests of full disclosure, I should add that we own the lot next to Barbara and her husband, Jack Caplan.
Barbara remembers Camp Oquago with special fondness, its “lovely accommodations, excellent food,” and the attention Mr. Mirski took for their health: shouting over the megaphone, “Girls, it’s wet out. Put your rubbers on!” She recalls special events: decorating their canoes for a parade around the lake; Friday night sings dressed in their camp colors, green and gold; the Honor Society girls, all in white, carrying candles to choose those worthy to join their ranks. Never Barbara, alas, because she misbehaved by sneaking out at night to meet her father who would slip her a piece of fruit.
Before the last week of camp, a plane flew over the campgrounds, dropping leaflets to tell each person which team they belonged to for the Color War: Green against Gold. Teams competed furiously in water meets, field sports and the Final Sing which featured homemade songs and skits, all for the glory of the team.
The Mirskis sold both camps in 1943. Oquago, after a brief interim, was sold to Henry Wellman who instilled his ideas for an ideal co-ed camp into Camp Oquago until 1977 when it continued under Stuart Chase’s ownership.
During this era, Carolyn Kohl came up to Oquago first as a C.I.T. (Counselor in Training) then as a Counselor. She shared her memories with me in a phone interview. “We had so much fun together! We spent the whole summer and the weather was always beautiful.” She vividly recalled putting on plays and musicals. Parents could come up anytime and she persuaded hers to drive up specially to bring a hairpiece for her friend to wear as the lead in “Anna and the King of Siam.”
On their days off they would hitchhike to Fleischmanns or Woodstock, stopping for a jelly donut in Margaretville. The girls topped off the day with dinner in Kass Inn and a movie at the Galli-Curci, before hitching back to camp by the midnight curfew. She and her bunk full of 8 and 9 year olds “had a great time.”
TAI CHI CAMP
In 1993, the Tai Chi Cuan organization bought the property to run a camp for Tai Chi devotees. They brought up successive encampments of students for quiet, meditative retreats under the leadership of Steve Fabrykiewicz and Beth McGuire who wintered over on the land with their infant son, Peter, later joined by baby Sam, born in the Camps’ last year, 1998.
The camp drew aficionados from all over the world, offering sessions at every level of expertise. In the off-season they hosted work-fests and one memorable ice skating party. The camp opened their grounds for a Memorial Day Dinner of the Perch Lake Association and a children’s play by some of the kids.
CAMP L’MAN ACHAI
Tai Chi sold to Camp L’Man Achai (pronounced le-man-a-hi and meaning “for the sake of my brother”). Yehuda Steinmetz, the Camp Director, told me in a phone interview, that it started as a summer experience for Jewish boy refugees from the Soviet Union. Since they had been denied a religious education there, the camp offered Hebrew lessons and enculturation in Judaism. It still does, although the boys now come from a variety of Jewish backgrounds.
Like all the camps that preceded them, they stress traditional camp sports, swimming, and boating on the lake. Former Oquago campers drop by to renew old memories.
Josephine Burke, the popular Oquago Waterfront Director, started a new camp, Pakatakan, set on the north shore. In 1960 Lil and Bob Heymsfield took over. They advertised roller skating, boxing and fencing among their specialties. Bus rides included trips to Monticello Racetrack.
At summer’s end, boats from every cottage on the lake zoomed out to see Pakatakan’s culminating event: two giant bonfires set under a high string and lit simultaneously to see whose flames could reach the string first.
In the 80’s, long after Pakatakan’s demise in 1975, a woman was quoted in The New York Times pooh-poohing her stepson’s fancy Adirondack camp, ”I went to a real camp, Camp Pakatakan!”
CAMPS vs. PERCH LAKE ASSOCIATION and Vice Versa
The camps and the 40 cottages that ring the lake have generally been good neighbors. Of course, from time to time tensions arise. Noise, for example: the happy splashing of swimmers or the exuberant cheers from the ball fields, even, “ALL BOATS IN!” through a counselor’s megaphone are charming. But a loudspeaker blaring Reveille or “Marva Jones, report to the Rec Hall” can jar the ears. Decibels must be discussed and accommodations made.
One rule which the Association holds sacrosanct has rankled successive generations of Camp directors. Forty-odd acres of spring-fed pure water make for perfect swimming, canoeing, kayaking, rowing, and on a windy day, sailing. Motor boats are strictly forbidden; which means camps can’t promise jet skiing or the like; as of now, no accommodation.
Perch Lake, a sparkling azure pool set high in a bowl of forested hills, exudes a peace all its own. Campers who have spent even one summer on its shores will always recapture its calm beauty with pleasure. ~
I am indebted to “Perch Lake Memories” in the Local History collection of the Andes Public Library for some of the information in this article.