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The White Sands of Dover and Nellie Hill

Two Nature Conservancy preserves
by Antonia Shoumatoff
Wed Jul 27th, 2016

Stephen Kaye examines the eroding limestone as it turns into sand

The Roger Perry Preserve off Sand Hill Road in Dover Plains may be the least well known nature preserve in our area that is open to the public.  Established by the Nature Conservancy in 2001 by virtue of a gift of Roger Perry, it has some of the most unusual geological and vegetative habitats in our county. While walking through paths of pure white sand, one has views of deciduous mountain forests to the east over the white cliffs of Dover Plains.  It is an unusual visual experience which gives one the feeling of being in an other-worldly landscape.

The outcropping Stockbridge marble has been weathered into silky-soft white sand.  The landscape is peppered with whale-like protrusions of bedrock and is surrounded by conifers.  The sand is not the coarse crystallized texture of ocean beach sand, but very fine, more like powder.  Walking along the trail through the 117 acres, one sees red cedar, juniper, pointy sedges and cotton grasses.  Along the bottom edges of the preserve is a rich fen with the familiar tussocks seen in wetland marshes.

Looking East toward Connecticut from the Roger Perry Preserve, over the white sands

Butterflies and dragonflies abound.  One sees rare native wildflowers such as red and yellow columbine and fringed gentian that come out at the end of the summer.  The Nature Conservancy makes an effort to remove invasives such as purple loosestrife and knapweed from the fen area.

Another Nature Conservancy preserve featuring a calcareous-based old-growth red cedar community with limestone bedrock outcroppings is the Nellie Hill Preserve, off Rte. 22.  The entire hill is limestone.   

The views of the village of Dover Plains from Nellie Hill of the village are striking. The village looks like a toy village with the white church steeple and the houses around the commercial area.  Historic oil paintings capturing these views can be seen at the Old Drovers Inn and in the Dover High School library.

Both preserves are well-worth visiting with directions at www.nature.org.