Memories of Dippikill

As you turn left off Route 28 in Warrensburg, N.Y., and bump along an unpaved road, a rocky stream slips into view on your right side, guiding you closer to your destination. An immense canopy of leaves towers overhead. With the windows down, the scent of evergreens, campfires and moss-covered earth envelopes you. When you step out of the car, the splendor of Mother Nature unfolds in every direction. Down a short, meandering path, a quiet pond sparkles in the early morning sunlight. A deep inhale. A long, slow exhale. This peaceful and pristine spot is exactly what you have been seeking. Welcome to Dippikill.  

For more than 60 years, this 1,000-acre private wilderness retreat, owned by the Student Association of the University at Albany, has attracted students, alumni, faculty, staff and their families and friends.

UAlbany Magazine traveled to this little piece of paradise in the majestic and beautiful southern Adirondack mountains to capture the sights and sounds that have captivated so many for so long. We're proud to share the cherished memories of alumni who say Dippikill is forever a part of their lives.

A group of UAlbany alumni pose for a photo outside of Nelson's Farmhouse.
The entrance sign to Dippikill Wilderness Retreat.
Aerial view of the Dippikill forest and surrounding hills in fall colors
A group of UAlbany alumni pose for a photo outside of Nelson's Farmhouse.
A close up of a green fern in the woods.
A sign that reads Valley Trail to Dippikill Road 0.5 Pond 0.2.
A group of people run happily through the snow.
Orange, yellow and brown fall leaves.
A group of alumni after a hike near camp Dippikill.
Two people walk next to each other down a road that passes through Dippikill buildings.
A photo circa 1980 of a large group of alumni inside of one of the cabins at Dippikill.
A group of alumni after a hike near camp Dippikill.

Our semiannual trips to Dippikill serve as a reunion and a way to gather our college friends back together from all across the country. Many of us now have kids who enjoy going to Dippikill as much as we do.

— Casey Crandall, ’07, MBA ’12

Casey Crandall and a group of friends stand on the wooden Dippikill bridge.
Josh and Michelle exchange vows in front of a fireplace in a Dippikill lodge.

My favorite Dippikill memory is getting married there in December 2018. Amusingly, for nearly 10 years prior to my wedding, I would rent the entire facility to host a trail running camp, and each year I did so by purchasing the “Wedding Package” which was what a full facility rental was called at the time. It was rumored that the Board of Directors was not too keen on me — due to the frequency with which I fell in and out of love, but at least I was a good customer. Eventually, they  renamed it, aptly, the "Full Facility Rental." Ironically, this was its name when I ultimately reserved the facility for my wedding.

— Josh Merlis, ’04

Several people run through a wooded path.A group of people stand in a clearing after a hike through the woods.Several people in a cabin holding the same yoga pose on many difference color yoga mats.
A Dippikill lodge on a fall day surrounded by trees of many colors.
Located just 70 miles north of Albany in Adirondack Park, Dippikill is the largest student-owned retreat in the country.
An old photo of four people standing in deep snow with their hands raised ready for a snowball fight.
Our first winter at Dippikill in 1983.

40 Winters at Dippikill

I have been going to Dippikill in the winter with an ever-enlarging group of alumni, family and friends since my senior year in 1983 — 40 consecutive winters! I was honored to be asked, in 2000, to serve as one of the founding members of the Dippikill Inc. Board of Directors and I have proudly served in that role for over 20 years.

— David Schaffer, ’83

A man sits next to a fire pit with chicken legs and shoes dangling above it.
1995: The fire pit at our favorite cabin (Collins) gets so hot that you can actually cook meat by dangling it from the flue!
A group of people lean on the railing of the Dippikill wooden bridge.
2000: For its 15th reunion gift, the Class of 1983 donated funds to build a replacement bridge on the path between Collins and Rita’s
An old picture of several people posing for a group picture in the snow.
1994: One of our traditions is our annual Snow Bowl
Present day, the group of alums in the same location and time of year posing for a picture and holding a picture frame of a friend.
2004 Snow Bowl
A man sits next to a fire pit with chicken legs and shoes dangling above it.
A group of people lean on the railing of the Dippikill wooden bridge.
An old picture of several people posing for a group picture in the snow.
Present day, the group of alums in the same location and time of year posing for a picture and holding a picture frame of a friend.

Friendship, fall foliage and photography

The first time I went to Dippikill feels like a lifetime ago. Two months into my freshman year, before my introduction to UAlbany’s wilderness retreat, I wasn’t yet settled into my new life as a college student. In other words, I had no friends.

That fall, I traveled with University Photo Service, the student photography club, up the Thruway for a weekend of bonding over fall foliage. We spent the weekend photographing around the trails, pond and cabins. I even won an award in a loosely organized photo contest.

A wooden staircase with etchings in the posts.A closeup of a green fern in a forest.Someone holds a cast iron frying pan on a griddle while various meats cook.Dippikill is written on the side of a canoe that someone is pulling out into the pond.
"I knew during that trip that I had found my friends."

It would not be my last trip to Dippikill. I continued to go every year with Photo Service, eventually organizing the trips myself as a club leader. I even joined alumni who had continued their own Dippikill tradition, offering me a chance to become friends with some real-life photographers.

People gathered around large indoor firepit.

A decade later, I still visit Dippikill and I’ve never stopped taking photos. My greatest joy is bringing new friends for their first trip and watching as they, too, discover Dippikill. Still, they may never know just how important of a place it is for new college students looking to discover themselves.

— Patrick Dodson, ’12, CGS ’21

A partially frozen stream runs beneath a wooden bridge at Dippikill.A person walks along through the woods. Light snow coats the ground.An aerial view of several people gathered around a chimney stack over a firepit.Two people paddle a Dippikill canoe on a foggy day in the pond.
The name "Dippikill" is derived from the Dutch word for "small stream."
A baby sleeps in a sled bundled up and surrounded by pillows.

The Beauty of Dippikill

On March 13, 2017, we were so excited to be on our first family trip to Dippikill with our 4-month-old baby and two dogs, Luna and Dahlia. Not long into our trip, our dogs disappeared from Birches as a blizzard dumped 28 inches of snow. Heidi, Justin and Tom, the caregivers of the property, immediately began a search. After five days, I returned home to Long Island brokenhearted and without our dogs. Heidi plastered the town and social media with photos of the dogs, while Justin and Tom continued their search on their free time. On his way home in the evenings, Tom even checked reports of barking.

Miraculously, after six days, Luna returned to camp! More than two weeks later, Dahlia was found eight miles from camp. The Dippikill team drove her to an animal hospital, and she began her full recovery. I’m still amazed at how their tireless actions reunited my family.

— Elaine Freedell, ’99

A dog sits on a snowy hill in front of a log cabin.
Dippikill is owned, operated and funded by the Student Association.

Dippikill Early Years

Dippikill Logo
Dippikill’s original 700 acres were purchased for $10,000 in 1956.
A map illustrating where Dippikill is located.
Several people walking in the snow and dragging a sled.
Only three couples have been caretakers of the property since 1956.
A news clipping describing the purchase of an additional 80 acres that was approved by the Dippikill Camp Board.
News clip from the UAlbany Tower Tribune 1972
You can rent all of Dippikill and have 96 people enjoy the property.
Two people drag a sled with three people on it.A snapshot of Figure 13, White Pine Lodge, in a manual about the buildings at Dippikill.
A cartoonish map of Dippikill with illustrations marking key landmarks.
All UAlbany students, alumni, faculty and staff can rent a cabin or campsite at Dippikill year round.
"We enjoy walking down to the pond... [and] delight in seeing the many newts crossing the path..."

When I was an undergraduate at Albany more than 30 years ago, Dippikill was a launching point for hikes into the Adirondacks. Many years later, when my wife and I returned to the East Coast, we started week-long visits at Dippikill with our dog, Felix, and our young daughter. We enjoy walking down to the pond for a swim, canoe ride, or, recently, to go fishing. Often, the walk itself winds up being a highlight because of what we get to see. We would delight in  the many newts crossing the path. During one visit, we encountered a migration of red-spotted newts along the ski trail to Rita’s Lodge. By the time we got down to the canoes, we had composed the following poem in the style of Calef Brown, who we were reading at the time:

An orange newt on a forest floor.

Salamander photo shoot.
They always look so very cute.
In their orange birthday suits.
Though they prefer to be called newts.

— Anne and Richard Single, ’90

My first trip to Dippikill was to Collins with my friends from undergrad. Something about getting away into nature and “disconnecting” awakened a sense of adventure I forgot I had, and it has stuck with me ever since. I’ll always be grateful for the memories, and I still like to rent cabins for vacation getaways in the beautiful Adirondacks.

— Joseph Mazzola, ’13

Dan and Christy Doyle stand in front of Rita's Lodge along with their dog and a sled full of supplies.

As a staff member and alum, I’ve been going to Dippikill for over 20 years, and it is easily one of my family’s top five favorite destinations. I have stayed in every cabin except Fox Lair and would be hard pressed to offer a favorite. There is nothing quite like winter at Dippikill: softly (or heavily!) falling snow, stars for miles, roaring and crackling fires, shared meals with dear friends, snowshoes crunching underfoot and complete silence once you stop walking, snow angels on the frozen lake, music and games and naps, cozy cabins (yes, even the ones with outhouses), and eventually having kids who enjoyed all the above plus the freedom to roam and create chaos both inside and out. Oh, and running into fellow staff/alumni while in your PJs!

— Christy Doyle, ’04

The Doyle family stand in front of the Farmhouse at Dippikill.Christy Doyle stands in a snowy clearing with footprints around her.Christy, her two children and their dog stand on a snowy Dippikill wooden bridge.
Many hands reach toward a shared center showing off newly made bracelets.

That time I invited 20 friends to celebrate my 40th birthday, summer camp-style, friendship bracelets and all.

Bridget Collins, UAlbany Staff

Dippikill Pond is a 20 acre glacial pond—perfect for swimming, canoeing, fishing and relaxing.

Our Home Dippikill

A group of people stand in the snow with a dense forest behind them.

Forty years after our SUNY friend group started, our UAlbany family has grown quite a bit. Loving partners have come into the mix, along with a healthy crop of kids. Through the decades, our clan has come back to Dippikill more than 20 times. (So many times, in fact, that our now adult kids are also Dippikill fans — and fans of each other.) We started out by staying in Collins — dragging sleds of supplies down to the cottage at the end of the road. We mixed in stays at Garnett, Birches and Twin Brooks, followed by several years in the Farmhouse and White Pine. More recently, we've been partial to Julie's where the living is a bit more ... cushy.

"I can close my eyes now and see so many images from our years at Dippikill."

Chopping wood and gathering around the fire, Gregg playing his electric piano while some of us sing along and others listen, piling high onto a toboggan to sled down the hill towards Collins, walking to a frozen Dippikill pond to skate and play on the ice and snow, climbing up the mountain, feeding the horses, sitting and laughing together around large dinner tables, moving off to the side for smaller, more intense conversations ... sharing the stories of our lives.

Dippikill, on so many levels, has been our home, and we are all so grateful for the role the place has had in our lives. Indeed, we look forward to returning to Dippikill soon, as long as we can have a hot shower and an indoor flushing toilet that doesn't freeze our derrieres.

— Mark Gesner, '85

Many years later, that same group of people stand in front of Nelson's Farmhouse. Two hold dogs.

Rabbi Mendel Rubin shared how an experience learning how to properly split wood at Dippikill gave him greater insight into his faith.

A trick of log-splitting is to use the arc of the swing, so that the ax falls of its own weight (not your weight or pressure) and that’s only to create the start of a crack in the wood. All this gave me new insight into Tanya chapter 29. It quotes the Zohar which says, “A log that won’t catch fire needs to be splintered, so too, a body that won’t catch to the fire of the soul, needs to be broken down.” My humbling experience with log-splitting [at Dippikill] showed me that that initial crack is really the main effort. The main struggle is for the body to give, to agree, to allow a sliver of holiness to shine through, to acknowledge that the body cannot be whole without the soul. We don’t have to break our bodies. But we ought to allow for that crack to happen, we have to be open for it to happen, we have to let go in a focused way, much as it is with the arc of the ax and it’s fall into the wood.

I went to Dippikill on a retreat with the Purple and Gold Ambassadors around 1996. It was a chance for members of the group to get to know one another. It was winter and we stayed in the large lodge. None of us remembered to pack matches to get the fireplace started, so we had to use the cigarette lighter from one of our cars to ignite an improvised torch. It was windy and the torch kept going out but we finally got it lit and had to run from the car to the lodge with it. The runner looked like a torch bearer from the Olympics! To stay warm, we took turns adding wood to the fire and shared a lot of good stories during the night!

— Philip Kelly, ’96, MPA ’98

A UAlbany Rugby Tradition

A large group of people and a couple of dogs sit on a grassy hill in front of a Dippikill building.
Being involved with UAlbany Rugby as a player and coach has given me the opportunity to meet some great people and connecting with them and their families each year at Dippikill is truly special.
— John Durant
Two people sit with arms around each other.
Two adults sit in lawn chairs on either side of a baby in a stroller.
Three men sit in lawn chairs and hold drinks.
A man with red oven mitts reaches into an oven.

The UAlbany rugby alumni have been going to Dippikill each year since 1996. In the beginning, we used to host an invitational alumni rugby tournament in Saratoga on Traver’s day every August. After the Saturday matches, we’d go up to Dippikill with wives, girlfriends, babies and kids in tow. The walk to Dippikill pond and the refreshing cold water was just what we needed after a full day of rugby matches. We'd have a big cookout and party on Saturday night and then we’d head to the pond again on Sunday. The canoes, sunning rock and seeing great friends was all that we needed.

The babies and children we brought with us in the late '90s are now in college or have graduated, and they look forward each summer to reconnect with those crazy kids and crazy parents for a few days in the Adirondack wilderness, year after year.

— Bruce Szelest, ’86, MPA ’88, CAS ’95, PhD ’03

A large group of people wearing UAlbany t-shirts sit on a grassy hill in front of a Dippikill building.
Two men prepare food in a kitchen inside a cabin.
A group of rugby alumni in front of one of the cabins at Dippikill.
A group of people sit near a fireplace and smile.
A dog on a rock overlooking Dippikill pond where several people swim and float on rafts.
UAlbany Rugby team holding a banner on a field near goal posts.
Several people walk through the snow wearing snow shoes.
A group of adults and children in the woods looking at a trail guide.
Several young people sit at a picnic table filled with food.
A group of kids in snow gear pile up snow on a picnic table.
Kids sit around a table playing cards.
A man takes a selfie in front of a group of hikers and people on mountain bikes.
Several young people sit on a rock overlooking Dippikill pond.
"One of our favorite things to do is walk back to Collin’s Lodge on a cloudless night and take in the billions and billions of stars in the sky that stand out so brilliantly in the unpolluted Adirondack night sky."
Bruce Szelest

Special thanks to

Editor's note: Some submitted memories have been edited for clarity and space considerations.

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