50 Years at Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve
April 9, 2019 - The Yorktown Land Trust, (YLT) is proud to be leading the way with the Yorktown Parks Department for the 50th anniversary celebration of the Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve. The Land Trust is a 501-c-3 non-profit organization incorporated in 1986 to protect and preserve Turkey Mountain and other open space in Yorktown. We are the successor of earlier Save Turkey Mountain groups that were formed to protect the mountain from development. The follow-up articles the Land Trust will present in the future will detail some of those development issues as well as historical facts and other subjects of interest.
The creation of the nature preserve, originally 124 acres began as an outgrowth of a summer camp owned by The Child Service League folding its tent in the early sixties. An attempt to revive it with Yorktown educator Dr. George Candreva on the Board of Directors did not get off the ground. Subsequently the property became available for development. A citizens group named the Save Turkey Mountain Committee, (STMC) was formed. Working with Open Spaces Action Committee, (OPAC) they put together a proposal for the purchase of the former summer camp property to present to the Yorktown Town Board.
The 2 committees were able to secure $15,000 each from Sam Ordway and Robert Ridges amounting to ½ the purchase price of $60,000. The committees were then able to convince the Town Board to contribute the remaining $30,000 to complete the purchase. It took several years for the transaction to be completed as a judge had to rule on the summer camp’s ability to sell its property as it was a non-profit organization. The Town took possession of the property in January of 1969.
The heavy lifting of transforming the property into a nature preserve as stipulated in its deed at the insistence of the 2 donating families began soon after. Working to remove dilapidated buildings as well as debris from vandalism was a long arduous endeavor that was spearheaded by Jane Olsen, the Chairwoman of the town’s Conservation Advisory Council. She enlisted the help of the Yorktown Parks Department as well as youth and civic organizations to perform the work. Dilapidated buildings were also razed at this time. Several buildings were left intact with the hope they could be used in furthering nature study and meeting space for lectures. Unfortunately, this was not to be as the buildings continued to suffer from vandalism. The decision was finally made to remove all structures.
The summer camp left behind a network of paths between buildings that became the basis of a trail network on the lower mountain. Two other trails went from the camp to the summit. The White Trail became the most direct and most used trail. The Red Trail to the summit was discontinued as it tended to become a washout from storms and snowmelt which made it impassable due to the erosion. The Blue Trail to the peak was built at this time providing a longer (1.5 mile) hike. The trail was designed and built by the BOCES Walkabout class in 1976 under the supervision of the Parks maintenance staff and David Klotzle, the town’s naturalist.
The preserve has certainly delivered on the vision of its early supporters providing opportunities for hiking and learning about nature. It was a classroom for thousands of school children taught by David Klotzle until his untimely death. It also plays a very significant role by providing for healthy biodiversity. The Turkey Mountain area (a triangle sized parcel of 1000+ acres) has been sited as a biotic planning unit in a biodiversity study published by the Metropolitan Conservation Alliance, a program of the Wildlife Conservation Society.
The Nature Preserve has benefitted through the years from projects performed by Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, community service requirements and school groups. The projects include trail maintenance, invasive species removal, boardwalk construction and sign making. The trails are now in the good hands of the New York/New Jersey Trail Conference.