Butler Sanctuary & Merestead County Park Join Trail
By Roger Savitt
BRLA seems to defy
a kind of physical law of suburban development: The more Bedford gets
pressured by new construction, the more the trails network seems to grow.
A few years ago, new routes were opened west of the Sawmill Parkway,
reclaiming areas that used to be riding territory decades ago. Later,
other trails were constructed at John Jay Homestead.
happening again. Trail building has come to a part of Bedford south of
Route 172, thanks in part to two large properties - Butler Memorial
Sanctuary and Merestead County Park.
Butler is well known for its
many footpaths. The land was donated in 1954 by Anna R. Butler in memory
of her husband, Arthur, to The Nature Conservancy. Butler is a refuge for
plants and wildlife, and while walkers are welcome, horseback riders have
not been permitted.
The prohibition of horses on the footpaths
hasn't changed. What has changed is that BRLA has been allowed to create
a new path across one corner of the preserve that will link horse trails
in the area. This route will not connect to existing paths in Butler. A
bridge giving access to the new trail is also being added. When it's
completed by the end of July, the trail will be perhaps onethird of a
Matt Levy, stewardship operations coordinator for some
60 properties owned by The Nature Conservancy, said, "BRLA approached us
about putting a trail in the preserve. When we saw we could do so without
any adverse impact, we were more than happy to help." The Butler land is
sandwiched between Interstate 684, Byram Lake and Chestnut Ridge Road.
Over the years, through donations and land purchases, Butler grew from
its original 225 acres to 363 acres. This is a rugged, heavily wooded
area that may have once been used to graze sheep and cows. Perhaps they
ate away some underbrush, but that was years ago and now there's a thick
covering of deciduous forest and swamps. Some high points afford views of
the Taconic Mountains and Long Island Sound.
Sanctuary is Merestead County Park at 455 Byram Lake Road. If this park's
name is unfamiliar, there's a good reason. While Butler is 50 years old,
Merestead has been open to the public only a few months. The property was
willed to the county by Margaret Sloane Patterson, who died in 2000. She
was the daughter of W.& J. Sloane founder William Sloane, a furniture
magnate who created Merestead on a couple of hundred acres in 1906. The
name Merestead is derived from a Scottish Gaelic word meaning
"farmlands." During the 20th century, Merestead's holdings were trimmed
to a still-ample 130 acres. Merestead - a National Historic Registered
Property - represents the largest donation ever made to Westchester
County. This estate includes a carriage house, tennis court, flower
gardens, pool and 28-room Georgian-style mansion. Just as importantly, it
also boasts wide-open trails cutting across hilltop fields and through
sporadic woodlands. At one point, a bridge crosses a small stream between
Merestead and land to the west. Not every trail is open to horses, but
the ones that are don't lack for scenery.
While Butler is popular
with hikers and the bird-watching set, Merestead's acreage gets few
visitors. Caretaker Tom Comito hopes to raise its popularity. "As with
any county park, you want to see the public come to the property and
enjoy it." Comito and others have ambitious plans for the property. The
carriage house is slated to become a visitors' center and the mansion may
become a museum. There also needs to be more parking. Right now, there's
room for only a few cars and it exists only at the carriage house.
However, Comito predicts that the parking lot will never be huge - while
Merestead can use more visitors, it won't do well with expansive crowds.
In its grand plan for land south of Route 172, BRLA foresees a trails
network that crosses not only Butler and Merestead, but ambles through
several other properties as well. They include land belonging to Patricia
Keesee, Stanley and Melinda Jaffe, Stephen and Barbro Kirschenbaum, Lisa
and Tim Ghriskey, Judy and Peter Talbot, and Pam and David Small.
Eventually the trail will come together near Linden Road as a giant loop.
At that point, walkers and riders would cross Route 172 to a path that
will join the rest of the trails network, which seems to get more
interesting all the time.