Onteora Scout Reservation:
Alder Lake

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.

Map of Alder Lake area (5669 bytes)

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.

For 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 own meals.

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 Onteora. Alder Lake, 1969
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 at the dam, 1969
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 here for an 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 stood.
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:

Alder Lake
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.