DUANESBURG — The Christman Sanctuary is closed to the public after a wave of vandalism.
The Nature Conservancy, the non-profit organization that owns the wooded preserve with its hiking trails and centerpiece waterfall, said Monday that it has been dismayed by the extent of damage but heartened by the community response. It believes that with help from neighbors, the preserve can reopen fairly soon.
Paul Gallery, stewardship coordinator for the Nature Conservancy’s Capital Region-Hudson Valley region, described the situation as “more intense than run-of-the-mill vandalism.”
One expects a certain baseline, he said: initials carved in trees and rocks; litter; or even a scrap tire or two thrown on the side of the road.
But over the past couple of months, Gallery said, that has kicked up to a more serious level at the Christman Sanctuary. A lockbox was broken open and the trail counter inside stolen; the lean-to in the gorge was spray-painted and had holes punched in its roof through rocks pitched off the cliff above.
“That’s what triggered the shutdown,” Gallery said. More than just the physical damage, it was the need to not present the degraded image to the community.
The preserve off Schoharie Turnpike started in 1970 with the donation of 97 acres by Lansing and Lucille Christman. It survived a brush with death — an early plan would have routed Interstate 88 right through the site — and has since been expanded to 120 acres, with about two miles of trails.
A highlight is the little gorge where the Bozenkill flows over a 30-foot waterfall that is serene or roaring, depending on the recent weather and the season. The Christman Sanctuary really becomes a sanctuary here, with the gorge walls, tree canopy and water sounds reducing the sense of the world beyond.
In deep winter, the water rushing over the falls and trickling through the sedimentary rock on both sides of the gorge freezes into a frigid amphitheater of ice.
The lean-to is near the base of the waterfall, along the route of the original Long Path; the sanctuary is a registered national historic site.
The Nature Conservancy closed the sanctuary to the public on Thursday and barricaded the only legal parking area, a small lot on Schoharie Turnpike.
“It’s just closed until we can get our head around what we want to do,” Gallery said.
The community response, he said, has been “really heartwarming,” with offers to help make repairs and mount a neighborhood watch.
“That will be probably how we resolve the issue,” he added.
He doesn’t know when the Christman Sanctuary will reopen, but doesn’t expect it to be a long closure.
“I don’t suspect it will be more than a month,” Gallery said. “We do not want to punish the community.”
State police based in Princetown hiked into the preserve to inspect the damage, he said, and troopers will maintain a heightened lookout for after-hours activity in the area.