Camp Hero Montauk

Written By: Crystal  Hoffman

My family started going to Montauk for a week every summer in the late 1980s. I was a teenage girl with many plans that seemed like they would never come true. My mother would always book the same place for the same week right before the Fourth of July weekend. We always stayed at Rough Riders overlooking the Fort Pond bay. It was quiet and away from the beach side of Montauk with everyone staking their claim for a small patch of white sand. No we stayed away from all that. I was told we came out there for peace of mind and quiet. At that time I really didn’t understand why we would want peace and quiet at all. I wasn’t working a full time job so didn’t have the corporate world stress that my mother and her boyfriend had.

Back then Montauk was still more of a fishing village then it is today. Our family week in Montauk had a routine that was one of ease and comfort. Mom and her boyfriend would always be up very early and go into town to the Bake Shoppe for poppy seed muffins and her favorite Prune Danish. Then perhaps to the IGA for a few more items to munch on for breakfast. My brother and I being teenagers never really wanted to get up early. So we didn’t. We stayed in our rooms until the sunlight streaming in the windows always begged us to get up. Or the smell of decaf coffee brewing on the Mr. Coffee machine that my mom would bring from home would tempt us to wake up.

Soon after breakfast we would head out into the village to go to the beach. Being someone who is very fair I never wanted to stay as long at the beach as my mom and her boyfriend did. So my brother and I would only stay for an hour or two then head back to our beach house to change. We weren’t little kids anymore by any stretch of the imagination but our sense of adventure would always make us want to explore further east. Camp Hero was off limits to the public at that time. It was just before the light house and we knew it was filled with rustic adventures in the bright sunshine. We would take the car and drive to the unmarked road just before the Montauk Lighthouse. We would park the car to the side near the brush so no one would see it. Then since the fence was locked with a rusty chain lock we would have to go around the fence post where there was a small dirt path. We would run as fast as we could for fear of ticks or any other bugs that might get us as we went through the small space between the fence and the bushes.

Camp Hero was not a place we really knew about back then. We didn’t have the immediate access of the internet to look it up and find out why it was there or when it shut down only a few years before. We just knew that it was our wilderness. We would walk on this dirty road that had many potholes and looked like it hadn’t been taken care of for years.  Many times we would encounter a deer strolling across our path. He would look at us with as much curiosity as we did him. Then after a few seconds he would run off. We would head toward the bluffs and the road seemed to go on forever. To the left we would be able to see the Montauk Lighthouse through the bushes. From where we were it looked to be about the size of your hand. We would keep going even though the heat would be unforgiving. I would always bring my camera with me and made sure I had film. We never seemed to remember to bring enough to drink though.

Finally the road would come to a large clearing. There were the bluffs. The sign read STAY BACK 200 FEET. But we never listened. You would softly hear the ocean waves crashing below you and see the end of world in front of you. There was nothing but the ocean, bluffs and then the light house to your left. No cars, no fisherman, no one but us and the deer wandering around this quiet, magical place.

We would take a few pictures with my camera, I was trying to be a photographer and it seemed natural to want to get the best of what Mother Nature had to offer us. So I would take photos of the bluffs, the light house, to the west and looking at the cliffs. Shooting downward at the sea but of course I could never get the cheap camera to really catch how far down it was.

Then it was time to walk to the ocean. It was another dirt ridden path going slowly downward to the Atlantic. Marred with potholes and pebbles we kept marching onward with rocks that mysteriously jumped in our shoes. Wishing of course we had brought another drink with us and maybe a hat. The road kept winding ever downward toward the sea. At points the brush was so thick that we could barely walk side by side. Then we would come across the old small building that was too spooky and torn up to even look at for more than a second. We had strange ideas of what it was. I kept thinking a toll booth since that was about the size and shape of it. But a toll for what exactly? Who would even go down this path? We would talk about it for a few minutes but the summer heat would quiet us down quickly.

Then the ocean was there, her song could be heard. Waves crashing on the rocky shore and making this sound that is loud in a way you can’t describe. You can hear the waves back off from the rocks as the tide goes out and the waves crash in. There in front of us was the dark blue Atlantic Ocean; huge rocks the size of tennis balls or larger and the bluffs to the east and west of us. The other thing that always caught our imagination was the huge man made concrete block about 6 feet into the ocean. What was it? Why did someone put it there? Was it for a boat? But there weren’t any boats near that part of the sea. Not knowing much about history at the time and not having a quick reference to go to my thoughts would go unanswered. Instead we just took in the beauty and the grace of the ocean that was all to ourselves.