SYNOPSIS: Years ago this was the site of the Putnam County Fairgrounds and Racetrack. Today, it is a nature sanctuary with well-marked trails, educational info and a picnic pavilion. And though it may feel like you are far away from civilization, at any given point you are sandwiched between downtown Carmel and Putnam Plaza.
APPROXIMATE TIME: Two hours.
DIRECTIONS: From the intersection of Routes 301 and 52 in downtown Carmel, head north one block. Turn right onto Fair Street and go 4/10ths of a mile. There is a small parking area on the right hand side, just past Carmel High School. There is enough room for maybe four cars.
THE HIKE: Fred Dill Wildlife Sanctuary has very well-marked trails – the Leaf Trail has a round sign with a leaf on it, the Duck Trail has a round sign with a duck on it, the Turtle Trail has – well, you get the idea. For the most part, the trails are wide with good footing. There are no steep trails, just a few steady inclines. If you are a runner and like to trail-run, this would be a good choice.
At the entrance to the sanctuary, pick up an educational tour guide and trail map. There are 12 marked “stations” in this preserve, with each station having a unique feature. The interpretive guide is very well done and the stations are interesting, concise and educational. In the past, I’ve found many of these interpretive guides to be a little pompous and just not that interesting, but Judy Kelley-Moberg did a fantastic job with this one.
My kids and I have visited this preserve on 3 separate occasions. Each time, we’ve taken the Leaf Trail to the Turtle Trail to the Duck Trail. At the far end of the preserve there is a pond and pavilion. The pavilion has 3 or 4 picnic tables, and at just about one mile, the walk to the pond is a good length for a rewarding lunch for the kids (and me). My kids even ate the crust on their PB&J sandwiches, so you know they were hungry.
We saw a big bullfrog about 100 feet in from the start of the trail -reptiles and amphibians are always a big hit with the youngsters. Along the way, many different types of trees are labeled – sugar maple, beech, tulip, etc. At station four, there is a huge old oak tree with a diameter of almost six feet.
An abandoned railroad abutment sits along the trail at station five. According to the literature, the project was cancelled due to the Panic of 1873. And check out station seven – in the spring there is an obvious reason they named it Skunk Cabbage Heaven.
This site also includes the location of an old racetrack that was used up until the 60’s. We had looked forward to exploring the old track, but it seemed too overgrown and swampy to find any remnants of it. Just shows you how quickly nature reclaims its own when humans aren’t around.
Two hours is more than enough time to hike from the parking area to the pavilion/pond and back, allowing for a few stops, rests and detours along the way.
The Putnam Trailway bike path passes through the park close to where the pavilion and pond are located, so this could also make for a bike-and-hike outing.
HISTORY: According to the tax maps, the sanctuary is 163 acres. Fred Dill was a local businessman who got his start working the stalls of the racetrack on the fairgrounds property. He got into the lumber business and was quite successful with Dain & Dill and Lloyd’s Lumber. He was active in the community, receiving a Lifetime Service Award from the Carmel Rotary in 1996. Before his death in 2004, he worked to help create this sanctuary, including donating 45 acres of land.
MAP & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in May 2008. Since this is a nature sanctuary, pets are not allowed. There is a kiosk with a large map and interpretive brochures in the parking area for the park. For more info visit the Putnam County Parks website at www.putnamcountyny.com/parks or call 845/225-3650.