What’s Behind the Gates of the Old Game Farm in Catskill?

Photos by Kandy Harris

The Old Game Farm in the town of Catskills, Greene County, is a ruins explorer’s dream come true.

Occasionally, when exploring a ruin or abandoned building, one may be tempted to trespass, and breaking the law isn’t the draw in such pursuits. So, when I have the chance to poke around a ruin with authorization, I jump on it, which is exactly what I did when the Old Game Farm opened their grounds for self-guided tours on Sunday, November 5th.

After registering online with the property’s owners, I showed up that Sunday afternoon with my husband and two teenagers in tow. I was in the throes of a chest cold that came with a fever, chills, aches, and what felt like a 60-pound anvil in my lungs, but that didn’t deter me from seeing what this abandoned zoo had to offer. Indeed, I found exactly what I came for: Cool, dystopian landscapes overlaid with the gloom of the weather and mid-autumn decay.

I loved it.

The owner, Cathy Ballone, provided me with a map of the 150-acre property with most of the old animal enclosures accessible, as well as crumbling gift shops and concession stands, all connected by 3.5 miles of paved walkways.

Still eerily in place are the animal enclosures’ perches and tire swings, rusty chains creaking in the light, misty breeze. Moats remain, now filled with algae-covered stagnant water, and the zoo’s only four-legged occupants – aside from the occasional wild animal wandering through – are a family of goats, household pets, and agricultural animals belonging to the owners.

the old game farm tour

The Old Game Farm, which was once named the Catskill Game Farm, was operational from 1933 to 2006. While it was open, the Old Game Farm housed over 2000 animals, including exotic animals like giraffes, rhinos, pygmy hippos, and capybaras. After the zoo closed, the animals were auctioned off and picked up by sanctuaries, animal rescue organizations, and, sadly, some canned hunting outfits. Find out more here.

My spin around the game farm grounds on a bleak autumn day drove home the poignancy of wild animals, meant to live their lives out on the open plains or among the trees free of captivity, locked away in a zoo in the Catskill Mountains. As depressing as the thought of abandonment and ruin may seem, the fact that the Old Game Farm now sits empty and overtaken by nature, never again to be used as a lock-and-key display case for wild animals, warms the very cockles of my creature-loving heart.

The Old Game Farm is available for pre-arranged tours, and it also hosts camping through TENTRR. To find out more about both, visit www.theoldgamefarm.com.

About Kandy Harris

Kandy is a writer and musician/music teacher living in Saugerties, NY.

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