Some Unique Places in Westchester to Visit

Mary Prenon | May 2019

Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills

Westchester County is home to many unique attractions—from renowned historic sites to breathtaking nature preserves and parks. New and even long-time residents in the county can find a plethora of places and activities to keep themselves entertained throughout the year. And for those who love animals, there are a few special spots offering visitors the opportunity to see them in their natural environments, and learn how to respect and protect them.

Tucked away in South Salem’s thick woodlands is the Wolf Conservation Center, founded in 1999 by Helene Grimaud, to teach people about wolves, their relationship to the environment and our role in safeguarding their future. The not-for-profit organization is dedicating to protecting two critically-endangered wolf species—the Mexican gray wolf and red wolf.

Three “ambassador” wolves at the Wolf Conservation Center

In fact, three “ambassador wolves”—Alawa, Nikai and Zephyr—live on the property and help to educate the public about wolves and the vital ecological role they play in the environment. “Wolves help to control the deer population, which can sometimes get out of control,” explained WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell. “As a result, you can see more auto accidents involving deer, and more foliage consumed.”

The center’s other 26 Mexican grey wolves and 20 red wolves residing there are candidates for a wild release program. “These wolves are actually part of the federal Species Survival Plan, which is dedicated to ensuring the survival of endangered animals,” added Howell. “It allows for captive breeding and then eventual release into places like Arizona, New Mexico and even Mexico. It’s all about rescuing a species.”

The WCC offers many events for children and adults including early morning photo sessions, an “Evening Howl” information session, sunset hike, wine and cheese. Of course, there’s the ever-popular “Sleeping with Wolves” program that lets guests camp out overnight and includes tents, a pizza party, movie, fireside snacks and breakfast.

In addition, the center offers various educational program for children, as well as a “Summer Wolf Camp” for kids in July and August.

All of the wolves are kept behind enclosures with vast areas to run and build their dens. Some have had pups, and anyone can check in on them anytime using their website’s (NYWolf.org) webcam.

WCC Executive Director Maggie Howell at the WCC Educational Center

“It’s true that wolves have had a bad rap, probably going back to fairy tales about ‘Little Red Riding Hood,’ and movies like the ‘Lone Wolf’ or ‘Wolf of Wall Street’,” said Howell. “The fact is that wolves can be very shy around people, and they’re all about protecting their families.”

The WCC is open all year long, and has had visitors from as close as the tri-state area to as far away as New Zealand. “A lot of Westchester visitors can’t believe we’re so close, and now we’ve become sort of a destination spot for those traveling to the Hudson Valley,” she said.

Another popular Westchester destination featuring animals is the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture in Pocantico Hills.  Founded by the late David Rockefeller Sr. and his daughter Peggy Dulany as a non-profit, Stone Barn’s mission is to create a healthy and sustainable food system.

Both the land and buildings on the 80-acre property were once part of a 1930s dairy farm. Its founders invited Blue Hill, a Manhattan restaurant, to serve as the center’s onsite restaurant partner.  Since 2004, Stone Barns has been open to the public, offering a true farm-to-table dining experience.

Open year-round, Stone Barns is not only a working farm—complete with plants and animals—but it’s also gaining a reputation as a renowned farming educational facility, offering a nine-month apprentice program that has attracted people from around the world.

“We get people from all backgrounds who are interested in learning about new ways of farming that will actually care for the land,” explained Jessica Galen, senior communications manager for Stone Barns. “We even had someone from Wall Street who was tired of that fast-paced lifestyle and looking for a completely different career.”

The center also offers food education programs for teachers and students, as well as special workshops for the public.

Hundreds of varieties of vegetables, fruits, flowers and herbs are grown in outdoor fields, as well as in its 22,000-square-foot minimally-heated greenhouse. “We probably have more kinds of greens than the average person has ever heard of,” said Galen. Plus, they rely on feedback from diners at Blue Hill to let them know which varieties they prefer. Blue Hill buys about half of the vegetables grown on the farm, and Stone Barns actually sells some fresh produce to the public.

Stone Barns Greenhouse

To keep the soil healthy, Stone Barns practices crop rotation and uses natural deterrents for pest control in place of harsh chemicals or pesticides. Grazing sheep, goats and cattle on the property serve as “grass cutters,” and by trampling through the grasslands, they in turn, protect the soil from erosion. “Healthy soil holds in more carbon,” added Galen. “The less carbon emissions in the air, the less climate change.” In addition, the center produces fresh honey from its own honey bee colony.

Visitors can enjoy a walk through the farm for free on Wednesdays through Fridays, and there is paid admission on Saturdays and Sundays from March through November. Ticket costs include a guided tour as well as pop-up events like vegetable tastings, meeting the animals or beekeeping demonstrations.

“This is one of the few places where people can directly connect with farming and food,” said Galen. “It’s a real eye-opener—especially for first-time visitors.”

Stone Barns has hosted visitors from all over the world and the comments heard most often are that people can’t believe there’s such a large, sustainable working farm so close to New York City. “I think it helps people understand how farming can be part of their everyday lives,” added Galen.

Just a few miles north, people can get a first-hand look at agriculture and wildlife at the Alfred B. DelBello Muscoot Farm in Somers. Open almost every day of the year from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Muscoot dates back to 1880, when it was a working dairy farm owned by Ferdinand Hopkins III, a New York City businessman.

Today, it is part of the Westchester County Park system. The county acquired the land in 1968 and Muscoot Farm opened to the public in 1975 with the help of former County Executive Alfred B. DelBello, after whom the farm was named in 2016.

Set on 777 acres, the farm features more than 50 animals including cows, horses, donkeys, sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, ducks and pigs, as well as six miles of hiking trails. “It’s all about preserving history and showing people what farming was like in Westchester at the turn of the 19th Century,” said Jason Klein, director of conservation for the Westchester County Department of Parks, Recreation and Conservation.

Among the historic buildings are the milk house, ice house and carriage house displaying various modes of transportation during the late 1800s and early 1900s. Admission is free, and Klein said weekends are especially busy there. “We get a lot of people from the area, as well as some from out of state,” he said. “It’s a special place that gives you a living history of farm life in our region.”

Muscoot also offers guided tours for school groups, and a concession stand is open seasonally. Visitors are welcome to bring their own food, as picnic tables are provided.

The main historic house also presents occasional art shows, while the main large barn is the setting for seasonal theater. Shakespeare’s “All’s Well That Ends Well” will begin production on May 31 and continue through June 9 on weekends.

One of the most popular weekend events at the farm are children’s birthday parties, held on Saturday mornings from 10 a.m. to noon. Parents have the option of including a hayride through the farm. “Kids love it because they really get the chance to see the animals up close,” added Klein.

In addition, the farm features some historic cattle breeds, and one famous cow “Show Girl,” who has been featured in several TV commercials and some films. “She’s a Holstein cow, one of the most recognized types of cattle,” said Klein, describing her black and white spotted appearance. “Show Girl is pretty famous, but don’t worry, it hasn’t gone to her head. She’s not a diva!”

So, whether you’re looking to meet Show Girl, dance with wolves, or experience life on the farm, these are just a few options awaiting you for the summer season in Westchester.

Mary Prenon
HGAR, Director of Communications