Alder Lake Scout Reservation

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.

Alder Lake road sign (1998)

Alder Lake road sign (1998)
The camp is long gone but the sign is still there

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:

Hiking route from Onteora

Alder Lake property

Alder Lake, which is man-made, was once owned by Samuel D. Coykendall, a railroad and canal shipping tycoon. Like many of his peers, he decided he wanted a vacation retreat "up in the mountains," and he selected Alder Lake as the site of his getaway house. 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 a dam was added to increase the size of the lake to 45 acres for sporting purposes. Coykendall was an avid fisherman and had the shore of his new lake specially lined with rocks to provide hiding spots for young trout, and he added a fish hatchery to stock the lake. He even added a special railroad siding next to the lodge to make the trip easier for him and his guests. To put it mildly, the place was impressive.

Click here for a 1911 article about fishing at Alder Lake

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. 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 that 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)

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.

A lone fisherman enjoys a quiet moment out on the 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. Continuing across the dam brought you to the Trading Post.

Alder Lake Trading Post (1969)

Alder Lake Trading Post (1969)

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.

Scouts fishing near the dam (1969)

Scouts fishing near the dam (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.

In 1972, Alder Lake found itself promoted from a small-scale trail camp to a full-fledged summer camp. This included a much larger staff of 22, 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 as Scouting faced a membership implosion shortly thereafter, and the last full camping season for Alder Lake was in 1974. Following several more years of use as a hiking destination, Alder Lake was sold to the state of New York in 1980.

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

For more information on the history of Alder Lake, and details on the hiking program between the two camps, please check out Ralph Foster's excellent work "So You're Headed For Alder Lake..." from 1970 on the menu below.

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