What will become of Trump State Park?


YORKTOWN — On a recent day, with the doldrums of a pandemic winter getting me down, I decided to get out of the house, take a trip and cross a destination off the bucket list. I drove to Donald J. Trump State Park.

The timing felt right. Trump has exited the White House, meaning New York now has the only state park in the nation named for the newest ex-president. Who wouldn’t want to see it?

The park is mostly in Yorktown, not far from the Jefferson Valley Mall. It’s about two hours from Albany and an easy drive down the Taconic State Parkway, if you also find yourself in need of a road trip.

But if you’re hoping for a landscape that captures the grandeur and the power of the presidency, or perhaps the magnificence of the American experiment, well, you’re bound to be disappointed. By the standards of state parks, the one carrying Trump’s name is neither grand nor magnificent.

Instead, the Putnam County portion of the park is mostly unkempt and overgrown land pushed hard against the Taconic. It includes some walking trails and a couple of picnic tables alongside the parking lot, but that’s about it. It feels unloved.

When I visited, on a cold but sunny winter’s morning, I half expected to find a bunch of dejected Trump diehards camped there, wearing MAGA hats and flying Trump 2020 flags over their tents. But, no. So far as I could tell, I was the only person around. My stroll around the park was a lonely outing perfect for a pandemic’s social distancing.

Now, this is where another columnist might suggest that the desolate landscape was a perfect metaphor for the barren emptiness of the former president’s soul, or something like that. But that would be unfair to the park.

There is nothing wrong with land left alone. This world needs much more of it, in fact. Not every state park needs to have “attractions.” Or even bathrooms.

(Travel tip: There really aren’t bathrooms at Trump State Park, so plan accordingly — assuming you’re not aiming to make a crude political statement, if you catch my drift.)

How, you ask, did the park come to be? Well, Trump being Trump, it shouldn’t surprise you that the story involves a failed real estate deal and controversy.


You see, Trump initially wanted to put a golf course on the land, but the plan failed when neighbors objected, citing concerns about wetlands. With the project going nowhere, a frustrated Trump gave the acreage to the state.

He subsequently claimed, in a rundown of charitable giving submitted to the Washington Post, that the donation was worth $26.1 million, nearly 10 times the $2.7 million purchase price, leading to speculation he’d used it as a massive tax write-off.

“This is my way of trying to give something back,” Trump said in 2006. “I hope that these 436 acres of property will turn into one of the most beautiful parks anywhere in the world.”

The donation came with a condition: The land had to be named for Trump. The state agreed and advertised the park with large signs on the Taconic.

(Travel tip: Once you leave the parkway, there are no signs whatsoever to guide you to the park.)

Of course, nobody would have dreamed that the real-estate developer would go on to win the presidency. Nobody could have foreseen the crazy tweets, impeachments, false claims of election fraud, the attack on the Capitol … even now, it all feels surreal. I’m sorry to make you relive it.

But there’s a new side to this story: Some Democrats in the Legislature are proposing to change the park’s name, believing Trump doesn’t deserve the honor. And last week, a full 15 years after Trump made the land donation, lawmakers used a virtual budget hearing to pepper Erik Kulleseid, the state’s parks commissioner, with questions about the tract.

Must New York, they asked Kulleseid, continue to abide by the naming requirement? (He didn’t have an answer.) Would Trump care if New York changed the park’s name? (I think he would.) Would he sue? (Do cats meow?)

Assemblyman Kevin Byrne, a Republican from Mahopac, reminded his more liberal colleagues that Trump twice won Putnam County, which might mean the folks who walk their dogs in the park don’t find the name so objectionable.

For the record, I’m all for changing the name, except I fear lawmakers will emerge from late-night budget wrangling with the governor to sheepishly reveal that Donald J. Trump State Park has been renamed Christopher C. Cuomo State Park, with $400 million devoted to planned improvements.

But for now, at least, the name remains, and the park continues as a quirky piece of the Trump story, a humdrum attraction likely to lure a trickle of visitors curious about the land named for the newest former president.

In all honesty, it isn’t worth the drive.

cchurchill@timesunion.com ■ 518-454-5442 ■ @chris_churchill



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