Ferncliff Forest is a 200-acre (0.81 km2) old-growth forest preserve of deciduous and hemlock trees located in Rhinebeck, a town in the northern part of Dutchess County, New York, USA. The property was bought by John Jacob Astor IV in 1900 and remained in the Astor family until 1963, when it was donated as a forest preserve and game refuge. The preserve is maintained by Ferncliff Forest LLC, a private, non-profit organization. Towers on the property were used for map-making, surveillance for President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's home during World War II, as well as recreational sight-seeing. Visitors can camp and hike the four miles (6.4 km) of trails free-of-charge.
The most recently built fire tower in Ferncliff Forest measures 80 feet (24 m) tall, with 109 steps. It was erected in 2007, the first since 1941 in New York. In 1942, the observation towers in Ferncliff Forest were manned by soldiers from the Army Air Corp 24 hours a day. The newest tower was constructed as a gift for the community for recreational purposes including hiking and mountain biking with an intricate trail system.
Before the establishment of Ferncliff Forest, individual farms made up the landscape of the east Hudson River. In 1853, William Backhouse Astor Jr. purchased several of these farms. His mother, Margaret Rebecca Armstrong, had grown up a few miles north of this property area in Rokeby. A neighboring property of 125 acres (0.51 km2) was owned by Thomas Suckley and hosted a farm colony. This property was later donated to the Methodist Church as a retreat for members of the clergy, becoming known as the Mount Rutsen farm colony.
When the colony was failing in 1900, 106 acres (0.43 km2) were sold to John Jacob Astor IV for $5,500, adding to the property that he already owned. After his death on the Titanic in 1912, the farm property was inherited by his son, William Vincent Astor who continued to expand the property by purchasing adjacent land. By 1940, William Vincent Astor had 2,800 acres (11 km2) reaching down to the Hudson River. After his death in 1959, Ferncliff Farm was left to his third wife, Brooke Russell Astor. She was asked by Homer Staley Sr in 1963 to donate the land to the Rhinebeck Rotary club for a Forest Preserve/Game Refuge and for it to be deemed "Forever Wild". In 1972 the Rhinebeck Rotary formed a 501c3 non-for-profit organization named "Ferncliff Forest inc" Ferncliff Forest inc is controlled by a board of directors and relies completely on donations and fundraisers for funding which was a wish of its founder Homer Knickerboker Staley, Sr.
At the highest point of Ferncliff Forest, 350 feet (110 m) above sea level, an old stone observation tower was built by the Astors. A second tower was built for the U.S. National Geodetic Survey to help with map-making. Finally, the second tower was built during World War II by the Army Corp of Engineers as a watch tower. This enclosed tower contained a telephone as well as utilities for full-time occupation so that enemy planes could be spotted. This tower was particularly useful in watching out for planes attempting to attack President Roosevelt's home and those approaching New York City. After the war, the tower became a popular attraction and was purely recreational. In 2006, the tower was deemed unsafe and was replaced in 2007 by the current observation tower.
In 2010, restoration efforts began to clean and improve the health of a 100-year-old pond in the forest. Weeds had made the pond uninhabitable for fish. Previous projects had cost Ferncliff over $200,000, and in 2014 the park began another round of weed removal in the pond. Workers had dug out a 1.5-acre (0.61 ha) area to place the weeds, to be turned into a field as part of the preserve.
In November 2015, an annual 5 km race benefited Ferncliff Forest, raising money for maintaining the preserve. The first race, known as the "Turkey Trot", occurred in 2008. The route begins at Northern Dutchess Hospital in Rhinebeck and ends at the forest.
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