SYNOPSIS: Despite the name, you won’t find open fields or farmland. At one point in history cattle roamed and crops grew here, but nature has reclaimed the farmland and it is now a beautiful wooded walk. A few remnants of the old farm remain, and at one steep section of trail ropes strung between the trees serve as unique handrails. My kids will forever refer to this as “the walk with the ropes.”
APPROXIMATE TIME: One hour.
DIRECTIONS: From Route 84 exit 18, take Route 311 east for 1.5 miles. Make a slight right onto Route 164 and go 2.2 miles. Turn left onto Couch Road, and the preserve is about a half mile down on the left hand side. Look for the wooden preserve sign up on the hill. A short distance past the preserve entrance there is a pull-off area on the left side of the road, but it is directly across from someone’s driveway, so to respect their privacy we parked on the right side of Couch Road where the guardrail ended.
THE HIKE: Take the stairs built into the hillside to help you get up the first steep section. After the stairs, the path continues uphill, with a bench or two along the way in case you need to rest, until you reach a relatively flat top. The trail winds along the high ground for a short while before heading back down.
As you descend down the hill again, there are a series of ropes strung between the trees to help you get down the hill. The trail here is covered in thick green moss that is spongy to walk on. Tread carefully so it’s still there for the next adventurer. Mountain Laurel – an evergreen shrub with star-shaped flowers when in bloom – lines the sides of the trail near the rope railings.
Once down the hill, you will go through a small wetlands area that can be muddy. There is a small wooden boardwalk over a section of the swamp. Shortly after the boardwalk, the trail meets up with Couch Road again. Make a right onto Couch Road for a short walk along the road back to your car.
Near the bottom of the ropes there is an old water supply structure visible alongside the trail, and I read that there is a foundation from an old barn near the wetlands section, but we couldn’t find it.
Lastly, you may want to consider hiking the trail the reverse of how it is described here. We have hiked the preserve in both directions, and my kids had a lot more fun using the ropes to get up the hill than down! It’s just a little difficult to find the trailhead if you don’t know where you are going.
HISTORY: The 37 acre Sterling Farm property is owned by the Putnam County Land Trust. It was donated to the PCLT in 1997 by Tom and Edie Keasbey. It became known as Sterling Farm when Edie Keasbey’s grandparents, Charles Fitzhugh and Edith Sterling Simon, acquired it in 1918. Sterling Farm Preserve is part of a larger collection of properties called the Laurel Ledges Natural Area. The first trails were built by Boy Scout Troy Townsend as his Eagle Scout project.
MAP & ADDITIONAL INFORMATION: Our last visit was in August 2009. We have hiked here 3 or 4 times. There is more info on the preserve, as well as a map, at www.pclt.net. Pets are allowed if leashed and cleaned up after.