If you took the virtual tour of Onteora,
you might remember reading about hikes to another Nassau County Council camp,
Alder Lake. Although the official name was Alder Lake Scout Reservation,
this property was actually an off-shoot of the main operation at Onteora.
It offered a number of camping experiences not found at the main camp, and
was one of the main destinations for Scouts interested in overnight hikes.
As the road sign
indicates, Alder Lake Scout Reservation was located near Turnwood, NY. The map shows the
camp location, with Onteora itself located just to the southwest of the
area shown. In addition, here are some topographical maps of interest:
Alder Lake, which is man-made, was once
owned by Samuel D.
Coykendall, a railroad and canal shipping tycoon. He had a dam built
to form the 45-acre lake, and around the turn of the century, like many of his
peers, he built a vacation home on the shore. To put it mildly, the place was
impressive. More about the house below!
Coykendall developed the property in 1899,
building the lodge and the dam that forms the lake. There had earlier been
a natural pond that had been drained to create a hay farm, but the new dam
was added to increase the size of the lake for sporting purposes. The
Coykendall family eventually sold the property in 1945 to a trout fishing
club based in nearby Liberty, NY. Nassau County Council later bought Alder
Lake in 1960.
Click here for a 1911
article about fishing at Alder Lake
The camp is long gone but the sign is still there.
This view is from 1998.
|As mentioned, the main purpose of the Scout
camp at Alder Lake was to provide a destination for overnight hikes for
troops staying at Onteora. As such, there weren't any permanent campsites,
with troops having to bring in their tents, cooking gear and other
material needed for a stay. Some troop leaders made it easier for the boys
by driving the stuff over to Alder Lake, which seemed like cheating to me
even as I was carrying a pack over there myself as a Scout.
most of the years the camp operated there were two counselors stationed at Alder Lake, along with
a caretaker. Unlike most of us at Onteora, these counselors didn't have to
rough it in a tent all summer. No sir, they stayed in the Alder Lake
Trading Post, which was located on a hill overlooking the lake. To make up
for a roof over their heads, though, they also had to cook all of their
A distant view of the Trading Post
as seen from out on the lake - 1969
|Besides their main duties of
checking in visiting troops and helping them out during their stays, the
counselors ran the trading post. The main business there was selling
cooking supplies, along with a limited supply of candy and soft drinks.
The trading post was a very popular place during rainstorms, for it
was the only dry place in camp. It was also just about the only place you
could actually sit down and rest your aching feet after the hike over from
A lone fisherman enjoys a quiet moment
out on the lake - 1969
|This view was taken from a small
bridge across the dam that forms Alder Lake. As you can see, the trading
post was a good-sized structure, with a large fireplace at one side. From
the grassy rise seen in the picture you could get a wonderful view
of the lake itself.
Alder Lake Trading Post - 1969
|Heading back down from the
Trading Post, the road across the
bridge led back up to the main manor house, passing by a small beach used for
swimming and boating. I never saw many Scouts using the lake - I think
everyone was too tired from the hike over. Instead, there were usually a
number of Scouts to be found fishing from the bridge or along the shore.
The lake, by the way, reaches a maximum depth of 22 feet.
Scouts fishing near the dam - 1969
At least one camper found inspiration at
Alder Lake, as seen in this poem:
by Harvey G. Laudin
Rich and quiet moods awake
And sweetest reveries form,
By deep and glinting Alder Lake
Where the Beaver Kill is born.
A myriad tree my eye can trace
That shape a living bridge,
Above her rippled, moving face
Beneath the Mill Brook Ridge.
Ancient, spreading maple trees
On guard before the lodge,
Catch the gentle running breeze
While redwings dip and dodge.
An aviary of varied wings
Fills the air with flight,
Reflecting what each season brings,
They fade away by night.
Sounds of wind, songs of bird
Fall musically to earth;
Nature's voice can still be heard
And here we sense re-birth.
June 12-13, 1965
|If you would like to turn the clock back,
click here for a trail guide and history
of Alder Lake from 1970. This document provides some very
interesting facts about camp's background, as well as a look at how the
camp itself operated.
Shortly after this guide was issued, Alder Lake
found itself promoted from a small-scale trail camp to a full-fledged
summer camp. This included a much larger staff, a dock and other
facilities. All of this was due to overflows from Onteora, which dictated
the need for extra campsites. Sadly, though, this expanded operation would
prove to be short-lived.
In 1997, the state added Alder Lake to a local hiking
system, with a new lean-to built close to the lake to shelter hikers from
the frequent storms experienced in the Catskills. The new lean-to is a
good addition, for hikers can no longer take refuge in the trading post.
The building is completely gone. In 1988, all that remained was the
concrete slab and fireplace seen here. The state
had removed the building when the property became part of the Catskill
Preserve, but I can't imagine why they would have let the slab remain.
There were signs of a fire, though, and I would guess that the place
actually had burned down several years earlier. Another shame, for it
would have been a great value to the state park system. By 1998, the slab
had gone as well.
Remnants of the Trading Post - 1988
|A visit back to Alder Lake in 1988 showed some
dramatic and sad changes. The camp was closed, no longer the property of
the Boy Scouts. A park ranger stopped by and told us that the council had
given up the property a few years earlier, and it had reverted back to the
state in 1980 as part of the state park system. While the road sign above
still pointed the way to Alder Lake Scout Reservation, the camp was no
more. The lake and surroundings were quiet and
completely deserted. The once magnificent manor home was in ruins,
completely boarded up. While it still looked good from a distance, a closer look showed the true story.
Sadly, in the coming years things would only get worse. By 1998 you
could tell the house was nearing the end.
Coykendall Lodge - 1998
This view is of the front of the
house as it looked in 1988, showing the stonework used throughout the building. Almost every
pane of glass was broken in the upper windows, and birds could be seen
flying in and out of the building. The building looked structurally sound,
but the ranger said it was a mess inside due to vandals and weather
damage. He said the state estimated it would cost $1 million to restore
it, with $50,000 needed just to repair the leaking roof. What a shame, for
the building had been in pretty good condition when used by the council.
Back in the 60s it had been used by Niles Fairbairn, the camp caretaker,
who lived there with his family and their pet otter, who had appeared in
Disney's "Flash, The Teenage Otter", a 1961 television
episode. Scouts would gather at the house to watch the otter perform, and
I remember going inside and being impressed by the place. Click
article about Fairbairn from the February 1965 edition of The
Nassau Charger, the Council's newsletter. Fairbairn, by the way, was honored by having
a campsite named for him in Onteora's Buckskin Camp. Fame is fleeting,
though, and the campsite has been lost to time. Fairbairn died on March
11, 1965, his 78th birthday.
Coykendall Lodge - 1988
|This is a view of the house's kitchen area. One can only
imagine life during the property's heyday, and the parties that
would have required a kitchen of this size. Sadly, the state didn't
take action to preserve the house and it finally deteriorated past
the point of no return. The once beautiful house was pulled down,
leaving only portions of the stone foundation to show where it had
Coykendall Lodge - 1988
Here's a description of the property from
"The Catskill Adventure", a brochure from the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation:
Town of Hardenburgh, Ulster County
Streams, wet meadows and
wetlands on the far side. Beautiful views of nearby hillsides,
particularly impressive in the fall. Balsam Lake Mountain and Little
Pond State Campground are nearby. Walk past the Coykendall Lodge
ruin, built in 1899 as a retreat for guests and friends of Samuel D.
Coykendall (the great financier and railroad owner.) Please stay
away from the building, as it is now closed. Walk to the lake, cross
the dam and follow the old road/trail around the lake. Non-motorized
boats are allowed on this 44-acre lake. Take State Route 17 to Exit
96 (Livingston Manor) then County Route 151 past Beaverkill State
Campground to Co. Rte 152 (Lew Beach). Continue on Rte 152 to
Turnwood Road (Co. Rte 154) into Turnwood. Make a left on Turnwood
Road. Turn Right to Alder Lake at about 2.3 miles. Park at the lot
near the gate. Trail register is just beyond. Loop - about 1.0 mile
Although Alder Lake was only in operation as
a stand-alone camp for
a few years, a number of items were produced for sale at the Trading Post.
Click here for a look at the ones found so far.
You can also click here
for some photos of Alder Lake.
Otherwise, you can head back to the
main Onteora page.