Just North of Bell Smith Springs off the winding gravel road that cuts through The Shawnee National Forest you'll find Teal Pond and a forgotten campground. Over grown, unkept, and being reclaimed by the forest this campground was once a well maintained pay use area. I can only assume, probably correctly, that budget cuts forced it's closure long ago. It was a shame to see in it's current state but nostalgia and Mother Nature made it easy to still find the beauty.
As I've said in my previous blogs I spent a lot of time outdoors since I was a child and in S. IL that meant time in the National Forest, at least to us anyway. As dysfunctional as my family could be, isn't everyone's to some degree, this love for the outdoors that they taught me is the best lesson. I consider it a gift from my parents, the gift of a lifetime. One that is continually giving, amazing, and awe inspiring.
The road through the campground
Somehow it had been decided we would go camping at this little hidden spot, away from the mainstream. My parents packed and loaded our gear and supplies into our old 70's model Vista Cruiser Station Wagon, with us two kids, and headed off for a extended weekend adventure. My brother and I were about 9 and 11 years old, respectively, and very excited about the trip.
There weren't many others at the campground which we delighted in. More seclusion meant a better outdoor experience to us. Looking back there may have been a few reasons for the sparse occupancy of the campground.
Bridge from campground to Teal Pond
The first night my mom thought it would be funny to scare us kids and threw some chicken bones behind the little pup tent that my brother and I shared. She told us stories of mountain lions and bobcats around the fire, much like telling ghost stories. We didn't think much of moms tales till the next morning when we discovered our camp had been raided. Our food laid half eaten and strewn across the campsite. There were eggs busted, half eaten loaf of bread, and even the ketchup bottle had been chewed. The contents of our food stash was almost no more but for a few can goods and items from the bottom of the cooler. We also found paw prints behind our pup tent, big paw prints, from a large cat. Obviously we hadn't secured things very well and we had visitors in the form of raccoons and a bobcat. We could only assume the bobcat had scared off the raccoons midfeast and that had saved some of the food for us. I don't know why the bobcat then didn't eat what remained, maybe he too was scared off by someone stirring in their sleep.
Not being ones to give up or scared by wildlife easy we decided to tough it out and then the rain came. Struggling to make fire, stay dry and stab open cans with a survival knife because Mom forgot the can opener we made it through the day. I think I remember my brother getting the cans open and catching a fish or two from the pond for supper while Dad fought to get and keep a fire going.
The rain continued into the night and must've gotten heavier at some point because the next thing I remember was Mom waking us up in the middle of the night. We were sleeping in almost 2" of water, our own pool in the pup tent. She rushed us over to the Vista Cruiser and we slept in the back storage area with the back seats folded down for more room. My parents shared the front seat, we spent the night sleeping and drying out once the thunder and lighting subsided.
Dogwood in campground area
The next day we decided again to stay and tough it out and I do mean we, as a family we voted. Making a fire was nearly impossible, and we were all now resigned to camp in the Station Wagon or share the very large tent my parents used. We hung our things up to dry as best we could, and as I began changing in my parents tent when a leak started directly over my head in a corner. I proceeded to have a little meltdown, at 9 years old I had apparently reached my limit with my patience for Mother Nature. My family found it amusing, and I see now that they were only laughing because what good was crying going to do? The concept took me a few years to figure out growing up but it's now second nature to me.
Levy wall next to Teal Pond
We spent one more night, all under the canopy of my parents tent, and away from the leaky corner. Thankfully it was an uneventful night, we packed up the next day and headed home without incident. It would have been easy to quit and come home after our food was raided, but we weren't ready to give up and I'm glad we didn't despite the set backs. What kind of memory and story would that had made? Toughing it out against the odds and finding away to make things worked is how we lived, not just how we camped. Smile in the face of adversity and if nothing else you'll have an amazing memory to recall. This is another fond memory for my family and I, we now recall it and laugh till we cry sometimes.
If you venture over to Bell Smith Springs take the time to stop at Teal Pond, cast a line, take a stroll, have a picnic as we did, or you can still camp even, just back country style now. I recommend securing your food though and leave no bones behind the tent!
Happy Camping and Hiking!!!