Monday, October 21, 2013

Game Warden Files--State Campgrounds

Among the many duties I assumed upon becoming the new guy in Fulton County was policing the state campsites.  I had one in my own sector and several more in adjoining sectors.  Policing campgrounds was nothing new to me as I'd served as as seasonal officer with the NY State Park Police, Taconic Region from 1977 until 1980.  However, in my work with the Park Police I'd never seen the intensity of problems and extent of disorder I'd come to see within the campgrounds under DEC's authority.

In the course of my first weekend working (which was July 4th weekend) I spent the better part of my time answering complaints and quelling noise problems in the two closest campgrounds.  In the first few years working in my sector, my neighboring officers and I spent countless hours and wrote innumerable tickets in those sites.  That would continue through most of my career.

Some of the events are specifically memorable:
Prom weekends were nearly always problems.  The kids from some bigger schools near Saratoga Springs would rent many campsites (Actually, in most cases their parents reserved the sites for them, but that's a problem we couldn't deal with.) and the kids would start arriving for the post prom activities sometime around 11 PM.  One night, I found a party building up and called neighboring officer Ray VanAnden to come over and assist me.  We started rounding up kids, most of them by now drinking heavily--and remember these are high-school kids.

One young man was trying sneak away from Ray while holding a very large mug of beer, more like a pitcher of beer.  The event is burned into my mind in cartoon-like fashion.  He was tiptoeing among some small evergreen trees trying to get to his tent without being observed.  The trouble was that I was standing beside his tent.  He started to run, still on tiptoes, and then made a flying dive for his tent--still holding the beer.  In one of the best timed moves I'd ever made, I reached out and grabbed him by the ankles as he was airborne.  His body stopped in mid-dive, the beer sloshed out of the mug onto the floor of his tent and when gravity took over, he landed in a beer-soaked sleeping bag.  Then he got a ticket for his effort.  We rounded up about 20 kids in that sweep, wrote at least most, if not all of them tickets for some campground offense, then called their parents and got them out of our campground.  I saw this played out many times over the course of the years and was always amazed that the parents sponsored this activity and were upset with us for wrecking their kids' good times--and their own free weekends.  Only once did we find a group that was partying alcohol and drug free.  They even pointed out a group from another school prom that was not sober and told us where the keg was hidden in the woods.

Memorial Day weekends were a big problem in the Caroga Lake campground above all others.  It seemed like all of our local high schools would be there, some of them skipping school on Thursday of the weekend to get a head start.  It wasn't just the troubled kids who were the problems; it was more often those who were from decent and well known families, were reasonable students and often were among the star athletes. We'd find them drunk or in violation of other laws, usually relating to not being permitted in the campground after day use closed.  One Memorial Day Weekend night as I walked through the darkened campsite, I saw a young man pick up a bottle of beer and take a big drink.  I took the bottle from his had and told him that he was going with me.  "You can't arrest me, I'm Pete -----." He invoked the well known family name.  Just then, two other officers, Larry Johnson and Bruce Perry, came by in a patrol car.  I handed the beer to Bruce and put Pete in the back seat.  Oh yes we can arrest you.  His dad was NOT happy when we called him to come get his drunken son.

One weekend we had a problem with a young man who would sneak in without paying, get drunk and then get loud.  We caught him twice in about an hour, ticketed him and tossed him out of the campground.  Not long after that, as I was hiding in a patch of woods keeping watch on a group of campers, I noticed a Sheriff's patrol car driving slowly through the campground.  Out of a group of people stepped our now twice-arrested young man who, beer in hand, greeted the deputy with with "Hi Mr. Gisondi! Ha, Ha, I'm not supposed to be here!"  Before he could say another word, he was in the back seat of the Sheriff's car and on his way to get his third ticket of the night.  This time, instead of sending him out, we sent him right to the local judge who sent him to jail.  He didn't get bailed out until the weekend was over--end of problem.

Interestingly, the following year he was back, a changed young man.   He spent his time trying to keep kids quiet and sober.

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