YORKTOWN, N.Y. - Run-down. Derelict. Vandalized.

Those were the words John Schroeder used last week to describe the condition of Turkey Mountain half a century ago, before Yorktown, supported by a united team of volunteers, purchased the property and rescued it from becoming another victim of development.

“So, here we are 50 years later, commemorating the 50th anniversary of the town of Yorktown’s purchase of the Turkey Mountain property and creating the Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve,” Schroeder, a board member of the Yorktown Land Trust, said at a celebration on Saturday, June 1.

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In the 1960s, the Child Service League of Queens used Turkey Mountain’s 125 acres as a summer camp. When that ended, the organization looked to sell the property, potentially to developers. But two homegrown volunteer organizations—Save Turkey Mountain Committee and the Open Spaces Action Committee—put together a proposal for the town to buy the property.

The town ultimately agreed to cover half of the $60,000 purchase price, but only after two residents, Sam Ordway and Robert Ridges, each donated $15,000. 
But a court fight over whether the nonprofit organization could legally sell the property put the purchase on hold. After a drawn-out judicial battle, the town of Yorktown finally took title in January 1969.

Today, unlike its neglected condition in the ’60s, the nature preserve is “pristine,” Schroeder said, thanks to the hard work of volunteers, town employees and countless community-service projects. Saturday’s ceremony singled out one of those volunteers, the late David Klotzle, a naturalist who often shared his knowledge, passion and respect for nature with Yorktown students.

A trail that Klotzle created specially for young children has been renamed David’s Trail and a plaque will be installed alongside it.

Klotzle died in 2016, but his wife, Nancy, was on hand to accept the honors, which included proclamations from the town of Yorktown (presented by Supervisor Ilan Gilbert) and the New York State Assembly (presented by Assemblyman Kevin Byrne).

“We’re here today to honor his contributions to Turkey Mountain and the nature preserve,” Schroeder said.

Schroeder, once employed by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, also mentioned the work of Jane Olsen, once chair of the town’s Conservation Advisory Committee, who “spearheaded” efforts to revitalize the property following the town’s purchase. An outdoor educational center is named in her honor.

The Turkey Mountain Nature Preserve, Schroeder said, has been a “centerpiece” of Yorktown for centuries. The Leatherman, a notorious 19th century vagabond of mysterious origins, stayed regularly in Turkey Mountain, Schroeder said.

“People would come here to picnic back in the 1800s,” he said. “Believe it or not, there was access by road to the top of the mountain.”

The nature preserve, accessible from Route 118 at Croton Heights Road, has six hiking trails totaling 3.5 miles, maintained by the New York-New Jersey Trail Conference. Two of the trails—Blue and White—reach the mountain’s 831-foot summit.