It is a lovely summer morning and I am humming as I get my horse ready for a special trail ride today. We are going to explore some of the most beautiful trails in our BRLA system, the Beaver Dam Sanctuary. After a short walk from John Jay Homestead to Harvey School, we carefully cross Route 22 and duck through a narrow entry in a stone wall. The glorious "Simpson's Meadow" lies before us in the sunshine!
Why is it called "Simpson's Meadow?" The answer is given by a plaque on a granite pillar in front of us: "This Pillar honors the memory of Marilyn M. Simpson whose foresight and generous spirit led her to participate in the 1969 foundation and endowment of this Beaver Dam Sanctuary so that these woods, fields and trails which she loved and beside which she lived could be preserved forever".
years ago, Marilyn Simpson and Jan Montgomery, both accomplished
horsewomen, enjoyed riding the trails near their homes. Marilyn, who is
described by her friend Jan as a "practical visionary", wanted to
preserve the beautiful land in its natural state and generously make it
available to Bedford residents for horseback riding, walking,and fishing
the streams. Together they purchased a 14 acre property at the confluence
of the Broad Brook and Beaver Dam River known as the "Sheep Dip".
Husbands Parker Montgomery and Kelly Simpson joined them in setting up a
corporation formed as a nature sanctuary. This was the seed from which
today's 200 acre preserve would evolve.
My Icelandic horse snorts and pricks up his ears; the trail lies smooth ahead of us and some small jumps beckon. We pick up a lively tolt (his favorite special gait), and traverse the beautiful meadow. The field with its wildflowers and shrubs is a haven for birds and small animals. Undisturbed by the horse, deer look at us from the surrounding forest. I feel deep gratitude to Marilyn Simpson, who purchased this meadow for the Sanctuary and prevented it from becoming a subdivision.
The sunny meadow gives way to a shady path downhill to the Beaver Dam River. The trail winds through a woodland along the sparkling brook. A fisherman casts his rod and nods to us as we walk by quietly. We slowly cross the river at the "Sheep Dip" and enter another meadow crisscrossed by mowed trails and set up with some inviting jumps. As we trot and canter around, a family with children and a dog stop by the wayside. I am happy to see that the dog is leashed and sits obediently, while the children excitedly point at the horse. My gelding is a friendly and well behaved guy, so I walk over and he is petted and made much of. A short walk along Beaver Dam road brings us to the entry point to the southern part of the Sanctuary. It is a perfect world unto itself with steep wooded hillsides, small meadows, a pond, and a stream. Jan and Parker Montgomery used to live here.
When health problems limited Jan's travel back east from California, her home for many years, she decided to sell the Bedford property in the early 1990's. At this time she made the decision to give the land surrounding the house to the Beaver Dam Sanctuary. I think of Jan far away as we walk around "Doc's Pond" (named after her father). I picture her sitting by "Jan's Rock" overlooking the Hemlock Ravine. This is one of my very favorite trails, making me feel like I'm out in the Rocky Mountains instead of New York. I remember her saying that this is what she misses most, riding in the Sanctuary, but that she is glad people get to enjoy it now. With a grateful heart I turn my horse to leave the Sanctuary. I reflect on the extraordinary experience I was just granted to have: a peaceful ride along beautiful trails in a landscape that has not changed in the last fifty years.
Since then, acquisitions and gifts by other generous and conservation
minded Bedford residents have increased the size of the Sanctuary. The
Board of Trustees faces many challenges in the years ahead: among them
restoring the under-story of shrubs and tree saplings destroyed by the
large deer population and controlling invasive species of nonnative
plants and vines. As a private nature preserve, it is not a town park.
The Mission Statement, which reflects Marilyn Simpson's and Jan
Montgomery's original vision, says: " The Board's mission is to preserve
the Sanctuary's natural beauty and peaceful surroundings in perpetuity
for the quiet contemplation and appreciation of nature, allowing for
activities such as hiking, horseback riding, bird watching, cross-country
skiing and fishing, and for scientific and educational purposes including
ecological research and environmental studies". We riders and walkers of
the BRLA can support this priceless treasure by abiding a few simple
rules: staying on trails, keeping our dogs on a leash, taking only
memories and leaving only footprints or, actually, hoofprints.