Beyond the Fence – The Amazing World of Deer Haven Park

An igloo in the former Seneca Army Depot. Photo by Gary Hunt
by Dee Calvasina
Published by Idea Press, Excerpt of Chapter “Sharing History”

It’s always exhilarating to share the military history of the former Seneca Army Depot, as well as to converse about the unique wildlife that find home within its barrier fencing. Perhaps even more fascinating, however, are the revealing tidbits that emanate from the touring guests themselves.

The day was perfect for a private tour at Deer Haven Park. A glistening sun produced the first warmth of spring. Dale, Brenda, and Dolly Swarts had planned this special date in advance. Dale, a Marine Corps veteran, arrived equipped with zoom lens camera; and Brenda, a lifelong Finger Lakes resident, was anticipant to see white deer. Dolly was all paws in – a Great Dane from Service Dog Project who assists Brenda to overcome daily challenges and who displayed, at the very least, intrigue. All three were excited for the tour.

The depleting snow along the park’s border displayed a fascinating array of wildlife footprints. We approached the abandoned detonation field where, during WWII, questionable bombs were safely disabled. In later years, the National Guard used this area for target practice and grenade throwing.

Dale quietly noted, “When I was in the Guard, we practiced throwing here, in this same field.” The comment was matter of fact, but the realization brought a sense of transparent realism to the now overgrown area and the purpose it once served. Sharing snippets of history as it is known in the present stands second to actually living the history itself.

The center of the park rose from the morning fog to display rows of ammunition storage igloos, silent and dominating. Brenda mentioned how many family members had worked at the Depot throughout the years when suddenly numerous brown and white deer appeared. Camera lenses raised carefully, windows lowered, and likenesses were captured as the wildlife seemed to revel in the moment.

The highly protected and still mysterious “Q area” loomed ahead. As we paused outside the triple barbed wire reinforced fencing and spoke of the history instilled in this antiquated area, yet more tales unfolded from our visitors. It was a bit north of this area where the women’s encampment had once presided on a small farmstead.

“My stepsister and I visited there in the summer of 1983,” Brenda shared. “The peace protests were going on, and we’d heard about the farm and wanted to see for ourselves. We were warmly welcomed. There were so many people doing all different activities.” Brenda did not join in on any protests, but to be on the farm at such an historic time in Depot history is an amazing happenstance.

Remembrances hovered like a cloud as we ventured onward. The male eagle was spotted posing proudly on a nearby tree while the female perched in the nest. Regal red tail hawks swooped, hunting for breakfast, as wild turkeys exhibited their strut. Innumerable deer prominently enjoyed the sun. Dolly hung her head out the vehicle’s window and gazed, whispering not a peep, as both deer and dog stared curiously at one another.

Toward the end of the tour, all were sharing their appreciation of the day when Dale suddenly remarked, “There’s a cardinal.” Brenda, reflective and comforted, shared that the cardinal represented for her a spiritual sign from her mother, who had served many years at the Depot. She had recently passed away. Today was her birthday. Her spirit was most assuredly with us, sending a peace that was almost tangible. What a beautiful gift. An adventure in past and present events highlighted by an abundance of nature and wildlife and capped off by a blessing from the beyond.

What adventures await you beyond the fence?

Purchase the book at:
• Visitor Center at Deer Haven Park
• The Stomping Ground bookstore in Geneva
• Longs Books in Penn Yan
• Odyssey Bookstore in Ithaca
• Barnes and Nobles in Vestal
• Amazon



Dee Calvasina is a Finger Lakes native, professional writer and freelance author whose work has been published in numerous regional, national and international publications.

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