GPS: Parking: (N 43.26497 / W 77.02628)
Swimming pool: (N 43.26782 / W 77.02977)
Beach: (N 43.27035 / W 77.03023)
Directions: From Rt 104/Ridge Rd, head north on Rt 14 to the village of Sodus Point. Turn left/west onto Lake Rd and follow it for 2 miles. Shortly after you pass Halcus Rd (on the left), the entrance to the parking lot is on the right.
Or use Google Directions.
Parking: Park in the parking lot off of Lake Rd. Alternative parking can be found in the DEC fishing access site on the other side of Lake Rd, or on the east side of Maxwell Bay.
Best time to visit: Spring through fall.
Time: Half a day to explore.
Handicap accessibility: None.
Pets: Allowed if on a leash. For your pet’s safety, and the safety of other hikers, keep your pet on the leash! It doesn’t matter if your dog is “friendly,” it’s the law. Please clean up after.
Swimming: Not allowed.
Boat launch: Hand boat launch is possible from the southwest shore of Maxwell Bay not far from the parking area. Another launch can be found on the other side of the bay from the State fishing access site. Maxwell Bay is open to Lake Ontario.
Accommodations: Trails; fishing; hand boat launch. No restrooms. No picnic facilities. No swimming.
DEC Region 8
6274 Avon-Lima Rd
Avon, NY 14414-9516
Phone: (585) 226-2466
Relatively unknown, Beechwood State Park is easily one of the most unique park experiences New York has to offer. A former Girl Scouts of America summer camp, the property has been left as it was abandoned in 1996. After 15 years the buildings are in a state of decay, with many overgrown by weeds. The Olympic-size pool is almost completely destroyed, and the large wooden dock on the lake has been demolished into piled up scrap along the shore. Campgrounds vary from fallen shelters covered in vines, to intact and clean lean-tos, almost ready for use. Throughout this designated nature park, the old campground’s lodges and miscellaneous structures are there to be discovered by the casual hiker. At least for now. Whether or not the state will demolish them in the future is unknown.
Across the park’s 250 acres are empty lots, pine and hemlock groves, wooded hills and marshy ravines. Over 1500 ft of shoreline on Lake Ontario and access to the west side of Maxwell Bay makes this not only an excellent potential property for family recreation but also an important ecological zone within the Lake Ontario watershed. The pebble beach, flanked by a two-story bluff, once a focal point for the Girl Scout camp, has been plagued by rising waters, landslides, and fallen trees. The bay, a sheltered fishing spot and paddling haven, is struggling with road contaminants and agricultural run-off. Currently it is not a typical state park with modern amenities, though Beechwood shines as a nature preserve and as a fascinating study of reclamation, as nature begins to take back the land and revert it to a more natural state.
The remains of the old camp are clues to what was once here, making for an exciting and thought-provoking hike. The park is also a haven for ground squirrels, deer, and migrating birds. For photographers, the many clues peeking out from the over-growth make for eerie subjects.
AKA: Girl Scouts of America’s Camp Beechwood
Distance: Up to 3 miles of trails.
Markings: Park trails are not distinctly marked. Some trails may have red flags tied to trees. An old access road leads from Lake Rd to the Lake. It is mowed at least once a year.
Description: The trails in this park are all about exploration. Since the park is relatively new and undeveloped, there are no official trails The old access road (often labeled as Gates Dr on maps) runs from Lake Road (west of the parking area) across the length of the park and to the shore of Lake Ontario.
A recommended hike is to start out from the parking area and head north through the first campground and towards the bay. Backtrack to the campground and follow a trail through the woods that leads to a large opening and a large structure. This the mess hall. North of it is an abandoned swimming pool and administrative buildings. Follow the old access road north and just past the clearing will be another abandoned campground on your left. Continue north along the road and it will branch. Straight ahead leads down to the lake. To the right are some cabins on top of the bluff, and to the left is a large campground and a lake-side lodge.
Map: See the interactive map below for approximations of the trail system as of 2010.
View Beechwood State Park in a larger map
Prior to white settlers, the Onondaga and Cayuga Indians settled along the “Assoh-doh-rass,” or “silver waters” of Sodus Bay, the largest natural bay along Lake Ontario.
Sodus Point was first settled in 1794 by Captain Charles Williamson, an agent for Colonial land investors, Pulteney Estates, with the intention of creating a port settlement. The Village of Sodus Point flourished and even became the sight of a battle in the War of 1812, when British forces besieged and burned the village to the ground (on June 19, 1813).
The Girl Scouts of America purchased a parcel of land along the west side of Maxwell Bay and the Rochester division then built and operated Camp Beechwood here starting in 1929. Beechwood was named for the American beech trees (Fagus grandifolia fagaceae) that grew along the lakeside bluff. The camp was successful for many decades, but several factors led to its decline in the 1990s. For one, taxes on lakefront property in NY State increased dramatically over the years. Secondly, Scout membership was on the decline nationally, as girls of that age gravitated less towards outdoor camping and more towards media entertainment. Camp maintenance demands grew out of control as rising waters and storms caused uncontrollable erosion, landslides and fallen trees along the shore. The lake waters were filled with downed trees just below the surface, making for a creepy and somewhat dangerous swimming environment for the campers. The bay, which pulled agricultural runoff into the two mile stretch of Maxwell Creek (then called Salmon Creek) suffered from algal blooms and poor water quality.
As problems compounded, the operating costs became just too much for the Scouts and they decided to put the land up for sale in 1995. Recognizing the importance of the Maxwell Creek watershed to Lake Ontario‘s health, and fearing commercial development or agricultural use of this important property, the State become interested in its acquisition. With the land already connected to utilities, and the existence of modern cabins, lodges, and recreation facilities, the state looked at the acquisition and conversion to a family park as an easy task. There was some resistance to the purchase using taxpayer funds, but with the help of the Clean Water/ Clean Air Bond Act the state was able to buy the land in 1996 for $600,000.
Unfortunately, before the State could upgrade and open the newly acquired park, a budget crisis got in the way and no money was allocated for improvements. The park’s purpose was then shifted more towards a manageable “preserve” and it opened with no improvements in 1999. Since, the buildings have fallen into decay and only the occasional mowing is done down the access road and around the main lot containing the mess hall and swimming pool.
Recently, the Town of Sodus has been given permission by the state for use of the park as they see fit. An effort by the Boy Scouts of America is underway to help recondition some structures within the park, while the Trail Works organization has spent some time mapping the existing trails. The SUNY School of Environmental Science and Forestry has taken some interest in the property as of 2010, walking the grounds to take inventory for a recommended management plan. As of the writing of this article, the park has only seen a minor effort to preserve and restore the existing major buildings.
Just upstream from the park, on state-owned fishing access land, is a small waterfall. You can get to it by following the trail along-side Maxwell Creek that starts at the parking lot across from the State Park. Another waterfall is further upstream, but the land ownership is unknown.
Marking the largest natural harbor on Lake Ontario, this 1871 tower and keeper’s quarters is now a museum. It’s free to walk the grounds and guided tours are inexpensive. Only a few miles to the east in the village of Sodus Point.
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