Land Trust ‘Renaturalizing’ Former Garrison Golf Course

Carmela Buono of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust stands in front of what used to be the sixth green of the Garrison Golf Course. Photo by J. Asher

Carmela Buono of the Hudson Highlands Land Trust stands in front of what used to be the sixth green of the Garrison Golf Course. (Photo by J. Asher)

Rehab includes removing heavy metals from greens

The Hudson Highlands Land Trust is in the midst of an extreme makeover of the former Garrison Golf Course, “renaturalizing” two greens by removing heavy metals from the soil. 

The property was donated in 2021 to HHLT by the course owner, Chris Davis, who also gave land to the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. The land trust’s 57 acres include the second through seventh holes along Snake Hill and Philipse Brook roads.

“My goal is to get people to question whether this was ever a golf course,” said Carmela Buono, the preserve manager and a restoration specialist with the HHLT. 

One of the first steps was to remove 550 tons of soil contaminated with arsenic, mercury and cadmium from the sixth and seventh greens, which had been treated with fungicide because of their shady and damp locations.

That project was largely completed in June, Buono said, noting that the property was never dangerous to golfers. “It met the standards for commercial use,” she said. “We just wanted to be more conservative” and ensure it was safe to “have a picnic and eat a sandwich.”

Starting in the fall, the land trust will begin to create a master plan with input from ecologists, landscape architects and the public, said Katrina Shindledecker, executive director of HHLT. There is a wide range of ideas, including bike paths, a pollinator meadow, a cross-country race course and a sculpture garden, she said.

Shindledecker also hopes the space will offer a gentle alternative to the more strenuous hiking trails popular around the Highlands.

“Look at someone who is recuperating from knee surgery or heart surgery,” she said. “Half the time they walk in malls. This is a beautiful landscape with slopes, but nothing with an impediment for most people.”

The land trust plans to rename the property and is open to suggestions. She said the nonprofit typically selects names related to natural resources, such as the Granite Mountain Preserve and Canopus Creek Preserve in Putnam Valley. She said that incorporating “dragonfly” into the name is a possibility given the unusual dragonfly habitat on the property. 

The parcel is open to the public during the day and is frequented by hikers, although motorized vehicles, particularly dirt bikes, are prohibited. Apparently, the undulating fairways and former sandtraps are enticing, she said. The land trust posted signs banning dirt bikes, but they were torn down. Shindledecker said she has asked the Putnam County Sheriff’s Department for help; no bikers have been cited for trespassing, she said.

What was formerly the Garrison Golf Course has had several makeovers over the decades. In the late 19th century, the property was an estate known as Walnut Ridge. In the early 20th century, it became the site of Bill Brown’s Physical Training Farm, “a discrete spot for well-heeled men to get fit and sometimes to dry out,” according to HHLT. Its guests included Babe Ruth, Johnny Weissmuller, Joe Louis, Tyrone Power and Henry Fonda.

For guidance with the most recent changes, Buono said the land trust consulted with Northampton, Massachusetts, which is transforming a former golf course into a public park.

“There’s no book that says, ‘So you own a former golf course, what do you do?’ ” she noted.

2 thoughts on “Land Trust ‘Renaturalizing’ Former Garrison Golf Course

  1. Thank you for publishing this article; it was much appreciated. What was the level of arsenic, mercury and cadmium in the soil that was removed? Where did the 500 tons of con-taminated soil that was removed end up, and how was it transported?

    • We shared your questions with the Hudson Highlands Land Trust, which responded:

      “Before acquiring land, HHLT commissions an assessment that helps us understand its condition and to check for environmental concerns. In this case, soil at the former golf course was tested by an environmental consulting firm that specializes in due diligence, investigation and remediation. Its assessment indicated that two of the former greens showed signs of past fungicide use. Although the levels were within commercial safety standards, any soil pollutants can be disruptive to forest regeneration and habitat productivity. Soil was removed from those locations and taken by truck to a specialty waste company that provides remediation, disposal, recycling and beneficial reuse solutions for contaminated soil. New tests have been done and confirm that our soil remediation project was successful, and the soil now meets stricter residential standards.”

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