When you ask anyone in the Scotti family what their favorite Blue Jay story is they'll take a thoughtful pause, run through their reels of many memories, and then smile and say, "There's just so many." That authentic response is thanks to the fact that Blue Jay Campsite is an Adirondack campground that truly brings family-owned-and-operated to the highest level.
I've known the Scotti family for as long as I can remember and it was a really neat opportunity to spend a recent afternoon listening to their stories, touring their sites, and observing the daily operations of one of Tupper Lake's longest-running local businesses. Throughout their many years as hosts, Frank and Sue Scotti, along with the help of their children, Jerry, Sarah, Frank, and Julie - and their spouses, have continued a family tradition that dates back seventy years.
When I arrived at Blue Jay, just like campers would upon their arrival or departure, I stopped to check in with Frank at the office located at the campground's entrance.
The building also serves as a gathering spot and general store where campers can do their laundry, buy ice, firewood, and a variety of other camping supplies, and souvenirs. It's rustic, simple, and adorned with years of history from the original door that Frank's parents hung in the 40s to the faded Polaroid photos of campers, friends, and family proudly hoisting a fish they caught that day with their name and year written below. Like everything at Blue Jay, the building and its operations are traditional and thoughtful.
In between visits from campers buying ice, asking questions about parking, restrooms, or their sites, along with check-ins from first time Blue Jay campers, I was lucky to get the rundown from Frank on some of Blue Jay's history. I felt grateful to learn about the rich history of a place that is nestled right in the town of Tupper Lake.
According to Frank, the Blue Jay Campsite property has been in the Scotti family since 1946. The Scottis purchased what was then the privately-owned Camp Blue Jay and turned it into the Blue Jay Lodge. The Scotti family ran the lodge until the 1960s when they decided to transform the property into a campground. With motels springing up along roadsides across the country and becoming the overnight rental of choice for people, Frank noted that his parents were looking for an inventive way to keep the family business alive. In addition to renting rooms at the lodge, over the years family friends would visit and camp on the property, and since they enjoyed it so much it gave them the idea to establish a campground. The idea quickly sprung into action and the Scotti family pitched in to cut the brush and lay the roads for what is now a 100-site Adirondack campground.
What's clear from the stories the Scottis shared and from a couple of hours observing the business in action, it's a tough but rewarding job to run a campground. The campers are on site from Memorial Day until the last weekend in September, but in order to run a successful business it requires 24/7 attention 365 days out of the year.
"It's a lot of work," Frank said of owning and operating a campground. "You're worried about stuff all of the time and you're always coming up with ideas on how to do things better."
Frank also noted that many of the campers lend a hand to ensure that things run smoothly at the campground. "It's like a big, big family. People protect their own place and help out," he said.
In addition to maintenance of 100 campsites, the Scottis also maintain a full marina that offers the only place to purchase gas on Big Tupper Lake, as well as boat and stand up paddle board rentals, and a variety of boating and fishing supplies available for purchase in their boathouse.
Mitch Harriman, a recent graduate of Tupper Lake High School who works at Blue Jay Campsite for his summer job noted, "This is the best job I've ever had. It's really incredible to work in a place where you're treated like family, because I work for such a great family."
Mitch spends most of his time at Blue Jay at the marina pumping gas for boaters, offering fishing tips, working on general maintenance, and fixing boat motors with Frank. "I've learned a ton working here. Frank has ways of doing things that have worked for so long."
The Scotti's successful style of running their business is clear when you get the chance to chat with some of the campers. Out of the 100 sites that are available at Blue Jay, sixty of them are seasonal with an average waitlist of 10-12 names.
"A waiting list for seasonals tells me I'm running a good business," said Frank, also noting that one of the things that he is most proud of is that his family is still in business despite increases in regulations, taxes, and overall expenses. "I've seen a lot of businesses change hands many times."
After talking with Frank in the office, I made my way down to the beach to visit with Sue, Sarah, Jerry and his wife Katie and their 5-and-a-half-year-old daughter Lucia, as well as a handful of campers. The walk from the office to the beach was an enjoyable one as I made my way past the volleyball court and soccer nets that were just waiting for campers to come and start up a game. The large lawn that leads to the beach is a real gem considering the beautiful sandy beach that it's attached to offers the best of both worlds for enjoying a beautiful Adirondack day.
I walked toward the group gathered under a large tree planted by Frank many years ago. It now provides a large shaded area for people to gather under. As I got closer I had a bird's eye view of how strong the community and the connections are at Blue Jay. The group was mixed with members of the Scotti family, Blue Jay employees, and campers of all ages.
I was quickly welcomed into the group and got the chance to ask some questions and hear some stories about what keeps people coming back to Blue Jay. There are many instances where seasonal campers who started coming to Blue Jay in the 1970s return year after year, and not only continue to bring their kids with them, but now they also bring along their grandkids.
Sandy Warner of Binghamton, who has camped at Blue Jay since 1973, is one of those people.
"It's fun to sit back and watch your kids watch their kids enjoy the same experiences," said Sandy of what she enjoys about returning to Blue Jay. "The freedom the kids have - it's like one big family - everybody looks out for each other."
"My kids play with the kids of the kids I grew up with," added Sandy's daughter Jodi. She also lives in Binghamton and returns to Blue Jay for about five weeks each summer with her husband and children.
Sandy, Jodi, Sue, and Sarah all chipped in when listing the fun things that the kid campers enjoy, including playing manhunt every night, kayaking, swimming, tubing, and waterskiing together, as well as sitting on the swing at the beach at night, sliding down the Bog, and jumping off the Bluffs.
After spending some time chatting with the group I was offered the chance to take a tour around the sites via the official Blue Jay golf cart with Jerry as my chauffeur. This marked the first time that I had ever made my way through the entire campground and I was impressed with the number of sites that are available, the crisp upkeep, and the way in which all of the campers truly make their site their home away from home.
During our trip, Jerry pointed out sites where daily and weekly campers will come back year after year in groups to tent camp, as well as campers who are the children of his father's childhood friends. He also pointed out sites of seasonal campers who are such close family friends that they attended his wedding, some as participants. As we traversed from site to site and I listened to Jerry's thoughts on the history and operations of Blue Jay, it was really clear to me that this campground is a community of its own that comes to life during the summer, and what really ties that sense of family together is that Frank and Sue's home is rooted in a spot that overlooks the beach. It's clear that every Memorial Day the Scottis not only open up their business year after year, but they open up their home and hearts as well.
Jerry and I returned to the group still gathered under the tree and I got the chance to chat with Sue about her experience of owning and operating Blue Jay.
"I love it here," Sue said, noting that she agreed with her husband Frank that running Blue Jay is like being a part of a big family.
My favorite story of the day was when I learned how Frank and Sue met. "She was a camper," said Frank with a smile. According to Frank, Sue and her family made their way up from the Long Island area each summer since she was a young child and stayed at site #12 each year. Since his family owned the campground and he and his brother Jerry spent each summer working there, Frank had the chance to meet his future wife at the same place they'd someday call their home. After they were married in 1975 he said it didn't take much convincing to get her to move to Tupper Lake, because her family loved it so much. Although, Sue did note with a laugh that her first winter was a little surprising after seeing Blue Jay through the lens of summer for so many years.
Sue mentioned that help from their kids over the years has really made a big difference in running the campground. "The kids are so helpful," she said. Frank added to Sue's sentiment when he stated, "We have four great kids who all have good jobs."
I spent some time sitting on the grass, listening to more light-hearted and humorous conversations within the group, and watching kids run in and out of the water, jump off the dock, and then find a nice resting place on the lawn. After soaking in all of the wonderful touches that make up this special Adirondack campground, I think the best way to sum up what has kept Blue Jay Campsite going for seventy strong years is what Chris Marsala of New Jersey said has kept him coming back for more than 40 years - "I love the lake and I love the people."
Learn more about Blue Jay Campsite and all of our great camping options in the Tupper Lake Region. Whether you're bringing your tent, your RV, or looking for a backwoods experience, Adirondack camping is sure to be a memorable experience!
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