KEVIN TATE: Campground hosts thriving variety of life in many forms

By Kevin Tate/Outdoors Writer

The campground had a big concrete pad that looked perfect for use as our tent’s floor. Little did we know something else had already claimed it as a roof.
Our Boy Scout troop was at a state park campground for a Friday and Saturday excursion and we’d found the perfect spot. There was the standard fire pit, grill and picnic table, and there was also a large adjoining concrete pad of indeterminate purpose. Maybe the plan was to put up a small covered pavilion there at some point but, for the time being, the15-foot by 15-foot square was just right for us.
Our Army Surplus tent would easily straddle the square with plenty of room to drive the stakes down beyond, and there’d be no concern about finding a smooth, level spot for our sleeping bags.
The tent’s hardware was transported in a coffin-shaped ammo crate and the tent itself was rolled neatly into an egg-shaped tarp bag, forming a parcel roughly the size and weight of a juvenile elephant. These two items were unloaded first, then were carried, dragged and rolled to the concrete pad and dumped while we brought down coolers and folding chairs and sleeping bags and everything else required by a dozen kids and their adult supervisors for two nights afield, which is to say, quite a lot.
When we got back around to setting up the tent, we discovered a few hundred thousand visitors had arrived. The concrete pad now looked like 225 square feet of Egypt under a Biblical plague of ants. The hardware box and tent bag looked like an outsized, bubble-lettered 10. We determined the ants were not fire ants and didn’t seem inclined to bite, but that didn’t mean we wanted to share our tent with them.
The concrete pad appeared so ideal, we hadn’t really noticed there was no other acceptable site for our tent at this spot, something we were quick to discover upon seeing the ants, which was after we’d completely unloaded everything else.
In a quick pow-wow, we voted to eliminate the ants instead of repacking all our gear to move a half mile, and one of our adult supervisors was sent to the nearest store for an appropriate chemical weapon. What we had in mind was a big can of name-brand aerosol pesticide, this being a time before such things were frowned upon, but what he came back with wasn’t exactly that. It was a big spray can, possibly the largest I’ve ever seen, but he’d gotten it from the generic aisle.
The can was plain white from top to bottom except for two words in black block letters that read, “ANT KILLER,” and the words were inside quotation marks, appropriately as it turned out because, while the spray didn’t actually do the ants any good, neither did it seem to do them any harm.
In the end, we moved our campsite a few hundred yards away and slept on an angle, which did help to drain the tent’s remaining ants downhill, and we didn’t have to worry about them getting into our food. Seems a square slab of concrete is all they really need.
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.