SYNOPSIS: This is probably my favorite property in eastern Putnam. The best part is that it is deceiving from the outside, because pulling up to the preserve you wouldn’t expect to see the rather dramatic ledges that are waiting for you just inside the tree-line. As you walk beneath the ledges, you can see how pieces have broken off and fallen down over time.
APPROXIMATE TIME: 60 to 90 minutes.
DIRECTIONS: From Route 84 exit 18, head east on Route 311 towards downtown Patterson and the Connecticut border for 1.5 miles. Make a slight right onto Route 164 heading east, go 1.2 miles and make a left onto Cornwall Hill Road. After turning left, there will be a pond (called Turtle Pond) on the right. Shortly after the pond, and directly across from Devon Road, there will be a dirt pull-off area on the right. A wooden sign marks the trailhead.
THE HIKE: As you leave the road to start the hike, the trail makes an immediate right turn and heads south in the direction of the pond. The trail then turns left to go uphill a little to give you a closer view of the tall rock ledges that are hidden from the road.
Coming back down into the wetlands, you follow a very cool stone walkway, then a narrow boardwalk that winds through a swampy area, hugging the base of a cliff that is a few stories tall.
Once past the ledges, a boardwalk juts out into the edge of Turtle Pond (in the past it has also been called Mendel Pond), making a 90-degree turn to the left. A small section rich in evergreen trees offers the faint smell of pine rising up from the pine needles on the ground. The trail will snake over and around rocks and boulders, as it is squeezed between the hill on the left and a swampy stream on the right.
Shortly thereafter, you will come to a Y in the path. If you take the right fork and cross the footbridge, another five minutes of hiking brings you to a small grassy area that is perfect for stopping for a snack. The trail seems to just end here, so you’ll have to head back the way you came in.
If you take the left fork at the Y-intersection, the path climbs the back side of the ledges using a series of switchbacks that zig-zag up the hill. (Switchbacks are not used just to make your trip longer. Rather, they make for a less strenuous climb and prevent erosion that can occur if a trail leads straight uphill.)
In a short while you will come to a small flat area that, depending on the foliage, offers the first elevated glimpse of Turtle Pond.
The trail then continues up the switchbacks. When the path curves left almost 180 degrees around a large boulder, look up at the large, smooth ledge that rises above you. You will soon be on top of that ledge.
The trail gets a little steeper and the footing gets rockier, and stone steps help you get up a steep section near the top of the hill. Shortly thereafter, you will be walking along a straight section that steadily climbs uphill. The ledge mentioned earlier now sits below you to the right.
Once over the top of the ledge, the trail will dip down and then rise again to a spot that offers a nice place to sit and have a snack and a drink.
The trail continues on to meet up with the trails of Sterling Farm Preserve that is on Couch Road (see related chapter), however our snack break was our turning-back point, so we headed out the way we came in.
The rock formations at Laurel Ledges are truly unique, especially when compared to the rather tame geography immediately surrounding them, so I can see why this location was made in to a preserve. What makes this hike even better is that the trail-makers did a great job of using the natural terrain to create paths that added to the experience, so kudos to them.
HISTORY: The 44 acre Turtle Pond Preserve is owned by the Putnam County Land Trust. With assistance from Friends of the Great Swamp and the Nature Conservancy, PCLT acquired the property in 2004 from Bill and Linda Hamilton. Turtle Pond Preserve is part of the Laurel Ledges Natural Area, which is a conglomeration of smaller preserves. Sterling Farm, covered in a future chapter, is also part of Laurel Ledges Natural Area.
The section of trail from the parking area to the Y intersection and footbridge was the 2008 Eagle Scout project of Stephen Maddock of Mahopac Troop 1.
MAP & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in December 2010. The rock formations are beautiful any time of year, but the views at the top required near-barren trees. If you go in the warmer months, bug spray is a must. Pets are allowed if leashed. For more info, including a printable map, visit www.pclt.net.