White Deer Tours of the former Seneca Army Depot in Romulus are once again a big hit with visitors to the Finger Lakes area. But this time, it isn’t for just a few weekends, as in past years. It’s a fulltime, year-round activity that local residents, as well as visitors to the area, can enjoy. The world’s largest herd of white, white-tailed deer is once again accessible to the public.
The 90-minute bus tours travel through the heart of the former weapons storage area, passing food plots established to nourish the deer and stopping at one of the 519 earth covered storage igloos. Visitors can see the white and brown deer, along with other birds and wildlife, in their natural habitats. They are able to pass through the massive concrete and steel door to enter one of the cavernous bunkers that stored everything from pistol ammunition to nuclear weapons.
The central attraction for the tours is the famous white deer herd within the fences of the former Depot. The white deer found there are a natural variation of the white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus), which usually have brown coloring. The Seneca White Deer are leucistic, meaning they lack all pigmentation in the hair, but have the normal brown-colored eyes. Albino deer, which lack only the pigment melanin, have pink eyes and are extremely rare. The Seneca White Deer interbreed freely with the brown deer in the former Depot and share the habitat equally.
“There is nothing quite as rewarding as a whole bus full of people jump up and say, ‘Look, there’s one over there!’ when they see a white deer,” says Dennis Money, President of Seneca White Deer, Inc. and a Canandaigua resident. “We’ve been working for almost two decades to share these beautiful creatures with the world, and it’s finally come to pass.”
Tours started on November 16 and are scheduled on Thursday through Sunday, of most weeks through the end of 2017. “We plan to offer tours on weekends all winter, weather permitting,” said Money, “Our first few days of tours were completely sold out, but there are plenty of open spaces throughout the year.”
The full schedule and online reservations are available at senecawhitedeer.org. The cost of the tour is $30 for adults, $27 for seniors and military, $15 for children 5-17, and children under 5 are free.
Seneca White Deer, Inc., the non-profit organization the operates the pour program, hopes to expand the tour offerings in the future, adding special activities for bird watchers, photographers, hikers and even horseback riders.
The first white deer, a buck and a fawn, were spotted in the Depot in 1949. After the first white deer siting, protection provided by the U.S. Army resulted in more white deer and the proportion of white deer gradually increased. About one quarter of the deer population now is white. The white deer on the former Depot are recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world’s largest herd of white, white-tailed deer.
The Seneca Army Depot was built in 1941 by the Army in anticipation of World War II. It was a major weapons storage facility for nearly 60 years and closed in 2000. Ownership of the 10,500 acre facility then passed to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, which agreed to sell about 7,000 acres of the property to Earl Martin of Seneca Iron Works in 2016. Martin established Deer Haven Park on about 3,000 acres of his holdings and has contracted with Seneca White Deer, Inc. to conduct tours of the facility for the public.
Seneca White Deer, Inc. is a non-profit, 501(c) 3 organization, run by an unpaid Board of Directors. The volunteer board serves to promote the mission of SWD by working with Deer Haven Park and local officials to best preserve the unique wildlife and military history of the former Depot.