White deer and military artifacts await visitors when doors open Nov. 16.
Romulus — The long-awaited reopening of the former Seneca Army Depot for public tours will begin Thursday, Nov. 16.
“We’ve been working for years to make this happen, and now we have a year-round program of tours that will interest nature lovers, military history buffs and people who just want to know what is behind those fences,” said Dennis Money, a Canandaigua resident and president of the nonprofit Seneca White Deer. The organization has been the driving force behind the former depot’s revival as a public attraction for its historic and wildlife significance.
The world’s largest herd of white, white-tailed deer form the centerpiece of the tours, which will also feature military artifacts from the decades the property was a major weapons storage facility. Reservations for the tours can be made online at www.senecawhitedeer.org.
The 90-minute, guided bus tours will feature food plots established to restore the deer herd and stop at one of the earth-covered storage igloos that once stockpiled weapons of all sizes and descriptions. This will be the first time in more than five years the facility has been open to the public.
Tours will generally be conducted Thursday through Sunday, year round, not just for a limited number of weekends as they have in the past.
The 25-passenger tour buses will leave the John and Josephine Ingle Welcome Center on Route 96A, about 10 miles south of Geneva, and travel through the heart of the storage area, which features 519 earth-covered bunkers, more than 100 miles of roads, and remnants of the farms that preceded the depot.
The Seneca Army Depot was built in 1941 by the Army in anticipation of World War II. It was a major weapons storage facility for nearly 60 years and closed in 2000. Ownership of the 10,500-acre facility then passed to the Seneca County Industrial Development Agency, which agreed to sell about 7,000 acres of the property to Earl Martin of Seneca Iron Works in 2016. Martin established Deer Haven Park on about 3,000 acres of his holdings and contracted with Seneca White Deer, Inc. to conduct tours of the facility for the public.
Concerns over the survival of the Seneca White Deer came to a head a few years ago when the herd’s numbers had dwindled from decades past. Money has routinely monitored deer population with trail cameras, along with an occasional aerial-view count. Two years ago, only about 75 white deer were seen on the 7,000 acres. But new fawns as well as natural brown deer were sighted this spring.
Martin, who is expanding his ironworks business on part of the depot, created a company called Deer Haven Park last summer to improve the habitat on a section set aside for wildlife. Money said last month that effort is bearing fruit, as Martin has repaired fencing and planted food crops to boost the deer population.