By Neil Fater
---- — They camped by the Shawsheen River. Kids ran around with flashlights. They cooked hotdogs over a fire and camped in tents under the stars.
They just did it in below-freezing temperatures and on a night when the wind whipped snow into drifts across the frozen Shawsheen River.
The Andover Conservation Commission offered a day and night of camping at Serio’s Grove Reservation this past Saturday into Sunday morning, as part of its effort to encourage more recreational use of the town’s open space.
“We’ve done it every winter now for a while,” said Floyd Greenwood, who camped with his sons Floyd, Kyle and Ryan. In total, 17 people stopped in for the cold-weather camping experience, with eight sleeping overnight.
“The kids took advantage of what was there. They made a snow fort,” Greenwood said, “and they had a nice warm fire. I think all the kids were just enjoying the setting. I don’t think they see it as cold and snowy, they see it as just another place to have a good time.”
“It was a nice evening. Everybody brought their dinner and there was a huge roaring fire,” said Al French, the former owner of Moor & Mountain outfitters, and the Andover man largely responsible for the Bay Circuit Trail, a nearly continuous 200-mile area connecting trails and reservations in over 50 towns.
“We awoke in the morning to wind-driven snow and temperatures around 20 degrees,” French said. “But the kids were all running around like crazy. They were having a great time.”
Bob Decelle, who runs special projects for the Conservation Commission, said he believes new Andover campers, including families with young kids, will find Serio’s Grove useful because if they encounter problems, they’ll only be a few minutes from home.
“What I’ve learned at Serio’s Grove is, it’s a great training spot,” said Decelle. “It’s not like they’ve gone two and a half hours to the White Mountains and now they’re stuck.”
“My stump speech is, the Conservation Commission has really taken the forefront in that their properties can be used for recreation, family recreation,” said French. “This may be an extreme example.”
The conservation land and its grounds and picnic tables are not open for public camping, however. People interested in camping must contact the Conservation Division before camping, and a volunteer will stay with the group, said Decelle.
The next overnight campout planned for Serio’s Grove will be April 27. Other overnight campouts planned for this year will be on May 25, June 22, July 20, Aug. 17, Sept. 21 and Oct. 19.
People interested in more information or in signing up to be part of a campout should contact the town’s Conservation Division by calling 978-623-8311, said Decelle.