At 1:00 PM today, I met a good friend at the parking lot that is supposed to be the trailhead for the West Nature Trail at Saratoga National Golf Course. It was pushing ninety degrees. I scoped the situation out in search of our path.
I studied the PLANN maps.
There was no sign of anything that looked like a nature trail.
Here is what the PLAN map shows (click to enlarge):
Here is what the area looks like on Google Maps (click to enlarge):
So my friend and I walk along the fringe of the road where the map says the trail is. We are basically just walking on grass by the side of this road. There is nothing that even remotely resembles a trail here. Unfortunately, since this road runs along a number of fairways, we had to hazard being hit by a golf ball. Fortunately, no one hits us. Your intrepid blogger is not covering a war zone but he and his friend courageously walk on.
I do not think “bizarre” is too strong a word for walking through a golf course with no signage or even anything that looks like a trail and trying to believe one is hiking a nature trail. See if you can find the “nature trail” in this picture of me on what the map says is the path.
Finally we came to the area where the map says the trail veers away from the road. Here we encounter a woman who appears to be a golfer. She is dressed appropriately. She is standing beside the women’s tee. She is quite courteous. We see beyond her a small break in a little island of trees. There is no sign or other markings and the break is so small that you could easily miss it. I did on my previous trip:
Much to our surprise, the lady knows where the “nature path” is. She points to the clump of trees. We thank her. Rather than tee off, she drives off with a wave. I think this is odd but move on.
When we enter the trail we find that it has obviously been recently pruned and cut. There are leveled flowering plants with their flowers still bright and there are small pieces of wood that have been recently brush hogged judging by how white their exposed wood is.
Fresh cut wood
In the middle of this small island of trees we find a sign! It is the PLAN trail map and there is another sign that declares “nature trail” and points onward.
This little trail might be only fifty feet long but the signs for it are posted in the middle of this trail amongst the trees so they cannot be spotted by a passerby.
This “nature path” leads us out to the golf cart path and next fairway. It has to be the shortest nature trail in history. Here is a picture of where we came out.
This is what we came out to:
As we exit the copse we encounter a young man in a utility cart. He asks us if he can help us. Apparently my friend and I do not look like golfers. We tell him we are looking for the “nature trail.” What amazing good fortune. He knows where it is and invites us to follow him. As we follow him, another cart arrives. In contrast to our guide who is dressed for landscaping, our new friend is nattily dressed as though he just stepped out of the pro shop which he probably did. He wants to know whether we have been talking to any golfers. We tell him we had just spoken to a woman a few minutes earlier. He is courteous but considerably cooler than our guide. He warns us to stay on the path for our safety. We thank him. We are now at the point where apparently the trail to Yaddo is. The two gentlemen in their carts move off to confer and watch us enter the extension of the path to Yaddo.
It is hard to see but this is a picture of the two men and their carts.
This is the bucolic golf cart “nature trail” that took us to the Yaddo trail
This is a picture of the path that now leads to land owned by Yaddo. Note that there is no signage.
If it were not for our guide we would not confidently have taken this path. As we walk along this path, just far enough in so that it could not be seen from the golf course, we find a sign announcing that we are on the nature path. The thing that impresses is that this is a brand new sign. Below is a picture of this sign and another we encounter further on. Even in these inept photos you can see how glossy and clean this sign is as compared to the one further into the woods. Again, it is evident that someone has recently come in and done some landscaping to clean up this trail. It could be coincidental and they just happened to perform improvements on the trail just prior to our visit.
As we walk along what turns out to be a nice trail we realize that we are still in some danger. The white objects in this picture are golf balls. Fortunately, my friend and I walk the trail without incident. We do, however uncover this:
Some zealous golfer has apparently resorted to using a tee to get out of a very difficult situation. Now I am not a golfer but I do not think that when you are in the woods, you are allowed to do this kind of thing.
We take the trail and find more cuttings and this fresh tire mark. Could have been the person with the tee but we are far enough into the woods that it was probably whoever was cleaning up this trail.
We come to what appears to be the Yaddo property because the trail narrows and the path becomes mostly grown over.
We turn around and head back. When we emerge from the trail, we are amazed to find the same woman who showed us where the path was earlier. She is standing by her cart a modest distance away. She is not holding a club. She asks us how our outing is going. We replay, “Excellent.” We exchange waves and head on our way. We have to stop several times when people on the tees and fairways are in the process of hitting balls close enough to us to represent a risk.
We return to our cars. We are unhurt and considerably wiser for our effort,
So the trail does exist. Most of it is on a golf course which few would categorize as a nature trail. Whoever placed the few signs we found in the woods could not have made finding the trails harder if they had tried.
At the risk of sounding a bit old fashioned, I think when you make a commitment to a community to do something, the honorable thing to do is to keep that commitment. It seems entirely possible that Saratoga National Golf Course does not want people walking along their fairways who are not paying to play golf. It is extremely troubling that Saratoga PLAN who holds the easement and is responsible for enforcing it has apparently seen no need to take any action as regards this trail. It is even more troubling that while the PLAN web site proudly publicizes the east trail easement that completely skirts the golf course as it goes through a swamp, any publicity about this trail is conspicuously absent.
The city is going ahead with the process of revising our zoning laws and Comprehensive Plan so that this golf course can be up–scaled into a full resort. If the way Saratoga National has acted in fulfilling their obligation to provide this “nature trail” is any indication of how they keep their commitments, it does not bode well that members of our City Council are now considering allowing SNGC to radically expand their encroachment in the greenbelt.