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Preserving the Thousand Islands

Have you seen the terns circling over their nests on the Eagle Wing Shoals? When was the last time you walked the Macsherry Trail or took your kayak up Crooked Creek in Chippewa Bay? Have you taken the bus Tour of Grindstone Island? Have you walked the trail through Thousand Islands Land Trust’s Heineman Songbird Forest Preserve (connects Grindstone’s Picnic Point and Canoe Point, NY State Parks)? 

If not, why not?

TILT, the simple name for the Thousand Islands Land Trust, is a non-profit organization that owns over 3500 acres of land, much of which is open to the public. TILT is dedicated to protecting the unique character of the Thousand Islands region while trying to provide a balance between preserving natural areas and ensuring that responsible development may continue to occur.

Over TILT’s 23 years, there are many accomplishments to celebrate; all land trusts have proud moments where easements and land are saved or secured. However, it is the people involved, past and present, who make TILT truly strong – people who have inspired others to provide financial support, or donate land or conservation agreements, often anonymously, for future generations to enjoy.

 One example begins with its founding president, Kenneth Deedy, a Grindstone summer-resident. Early in 1989, the Land Trust was awarded two grants - one by the Northern New York Community Foundation and the other by the St. Lawrence- Eastern Ontario Commission (SLEOC). The grants allowed the Land Trust to study and evaluate all undeveloped islands in the United States sector of the Thousand Islands with respect to future land-management policies.

When the study was completed, it was vital that TILT investigate the ownership of all uninhabited properties with the hope that TILT would be able to preserve some of them.

Deedy had discovered that several tiny islets were considered to have no owner by New York State and he realized that TILT could lay claim to them if it could find a descendent of Elisha Camp, a Sackets Harbor settler who had purchased all the islands in 1825. He asked other islanders and was fortunate to learn that there was a preserve on Sanibel Island, Florida that was named after an “Elisha Camp”. He made a few calls to the area but drew a blank. Soon after watching a television commercial about FedEx, he decided to try something different. Deedy sent a simply-addressed packet containing information about TILT and a request for a quitclaim deed to: Elisha Camp, Sanibel Island, Florida.

About two weeks later, TILT received a handwritten letter containing a $100 donation from Mr. Camp, a descendant of the original Elisha Camp. He also agreed to quitclaim any interest he may have inherited from Elisha Camp to all islets less than ½ acre in size and to deed them to the Land Trust. He executed two deeds and the quitclaim was successful which meant that TILT was able to protect, in perpetuity, these fragile islets that are important to the river’s wildlife inhabitants, one being the threatened Common Tern. Lady Luck was on Ken Deedy’s side but it’s really due to his tenacity, and the support of all members of the board, that these areas are protected.

Putting together land preserves seldom happens quickly. Crooked Creek Preserve, consisting of 1,256 acres was assembled from seven parcels of land and took ten years to complete. Also, the acquisition of 11 parcels of land now owned by TILT on Grindstone Island began more than 23 years ago. The Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail (Rails-to-Trails) took 15 years to acquire the right-of-ways.

Zenda Farm, located on the Clayton-to-Cape Vincent road, has a unique story to be celebrated this summer at the TILT Community Picnic, in June. It has taken TILT over a decade to complete the Zenda Farm Preserve, thanks again to the tenacity of a board member.

Zenda Farm evolved from the smaller farms of some of the earliest settlers and was built on land that had been owned by Anthony Potter, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars. Eventually a large, shingle-style, waterfront, summer home originally built by J. Herbert Johnson of New York was bought by James K. Hackett. Why the name “Zenda”?

James Keteltas Hackett (1869 – 1926) was a popular American actor in early cinema. He was the lead in the 1913 silent version of “The Prisoner of Zenda” and in 1915 he purchased the Johnson home, naming it “Zenda”.

In the early 1930s, Merle Youngs, founder of the Youngs Rubber Company, bought the home and went on to acquire several adjacent-and- smaller farms. Eventually, he owned 800 acres and established a dairy farm and a beef operation. Youngs built a modern creamery and installed the area’s first automatic bottler. His Guernsey cattle produced high-quality milk and by the late 1930s, Zenda Farm was one of the showplaces of Jefferson County.

In 1997, John MacFarlane, who had inherited Zenda Farm from Merle Youngs, together with his wife LoisJean donated 107-acres of the farm to TILT. Their generous gift forms the scenic “gateway” to Clayton. Four years later, a TILT board member encouraged the Land Trust to increase the Zenda acreage by purchasing a portion - 284 acres – that had been part of the original farm.

The board member provided the funds for the purchase of Zenda meadows, a 70-acre parcel, then owned by a developer. In 2006, TILT purchased an adjacent 46-acre parcel, also once part of Zenda Farm. This acquisition was made possible through an opportune partnership between US Fish & Wildlife's Fish Enhancement Mitigation and Research Fund (FEMRF), Ducks Unlimited and the Land Trust, along with private contributions. Together they raised more 80% of the $200,000 purchase price.

In early 2007, TILT was able, through another major donation, to purchase the last remaining agricultural parcel of the original Zenda farm, the 166 acre parcel known as Zenda Meadows II.

In June the Land Trust will celebrate a new gift of land. Fifteen acres of the Zenda Woods will be received from the estate of John MacFarlane and TILT will have the opportunity to thank his widow, LoisJean for this generous contribution.

Zenda Farm Preserve is significant because it conserves historic farmland, agricultural buildings, and protects critical habitat for grassland birds of the northeast. Planning is underway for a year-round trail, using funds secured from the NY State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. The Trail will welcome walkers and skiers with the aid of additional signage which will inform the public of the value of preserving these special places. One of the farm buildings is used by State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry’s Thousand Islands Biological Station.

This summer as you plan your holiday in the Thousand Islands, TILT invites you to visit some of the TILT-owned public places. A complete list of public lands is found in TI Life under The Place: Parks and Preserves. You can also visit their website at and calls may be made to the TILT office at (315) 686-5345 for more information.

By David Ray and Susan W. Smith

From the Thousand Islands Land Trust files.

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Anonymous User
Comment by: Anonymous User
Left at: 9:50 PM Friday, August 20, 2010
CiCi Laughlin
Comment by: CiCi Laughlin ( )
Left at: 6:46 PM Sunday, January 9, 2011
I am a direct descendant of Elisha Camp. Please contact me. I have information about Elisha Camp locally. My email is and my home phone number is 315-815-4038. If you don't get an answer, please leave a message. Thank you