An Idea Too Good to Die–A Seneca Update

Proverbial shock waves are still shaking the New York Finger Lakes region after a mid-December announcement by Seneca White Deer, Inc. that it was closing down its visitor center and white deer tours at an old decommissioned army depot. The depot has been home to a herd of white deer for 70 years.

The otherwise successful enterprise, riding on the crest of dedicated visionaries and volunteers, could not meet its expenses—the most onerous being the $8450 per month rent charged by property owner Earl Martin for the 3,000-acre conservation area dubbed Deer Haven Park.

Seneca White Deer hosted over 15,000 visitors in the two years since it officially opened and the property grew into both a wildlife haven and a repository of local military history. In October the organization even sponsored its first “White Deer Festival,” which included a “Run with the Deer.” A local vineyard promoted the white deer with their own wine creation, and the Seneca group and the tours were often featured in both local and national news stories.

But it all came down to money. Despite the organization’s growing success, revenues could not keep up with expenses. A winter slump—a slowdown for virtually all tourist activities in northern states—dragged down tour sales.

Dennis Money, the ironically named president of Seneca White Deer, says the organization will continue to advocate for the white deer and is open to resuming the tours if more favorable terms can be negotiated. The Seneca County Board is also hopeful that the tours can be resurrected.

After Money addressed a recent County Board meeting, Supervisor Bob Hayssen concluded: “We have to find a way to go back and make this right….We have to find a way to make sure that Seneca White Deer is able to continue at the depot for the public benefit, as they have for many years.”

In the meantime, landowner Earl Martin promises to maintain the wildlife plantings and the white deer herd, and to start up tours again with another group: “There will likely be tours again, managed by a different team.” One wonders, though, where Martin could find a more capable and passionate group of people to run the tours.

Martin is hopeful that the Seneca organization will be able to make available “interpretive material, website transfer, and other administrative items…so that we can continue to provide the public this opportunity to interact with these beautiful white deer.”

Seneca White Deer board members, however, see Martin’s actions as more like a takeover than a gesture of goodwill and feel that they have been forced into an impossible situation.

So, once gain, the white deer are passive players in a much bigger game. It is hard to imagine, though, that this will be the last we hear of Seneca’s white deer. The “ball” that started rolling with the Seneca Organization may just have enough momentum to keep going–somewhere, in some form. After all, ideas are powerful things, and the Seneca White Deer project is a very, very good idea.