Did you know that Catskill was once home to a zoo?
For over seven decades, families ventured to Greene County to visit the more than 2,000 animals that roamed free at the Catskill Game Farm. Yet when the property closed its doors in 2006 and former owner Kathie Schulz had to find a new home for the abundance of animals onsite, controversy crept onto the grounds.
The Humane Society filed a complaint that during the farm auction (see here, courtesy of the Humane Society of the United States) in October 2006, Schulz sold some animals, including bison, wisent, deer, yaks, and elk, to buyers connected to canned hunts. Although dealers were required to have licenses to purchase animals at the auction, the concerns voiced by the Humane Society and local advocacy groups focused on the fact that said buyers were afterward able to sell animals to hunts or zoos if they so chose.
Part of the controversy surrounding the auction also tied back to Schulz’s ex-husband, Jurgen, who owned an exotic-animal import business in Texas at the time. Prior to that, the farm received a number of citations during annual USDA inspection reports, including excess accumulation of manure in January 2004, inadequate water drainage in August 2004 and 2005, and spoiled food and food debris in August 2005.
Schulz, whose father, Roland Lindemann, founded the farm in 1933, also sold a large number of animals to private collectors or to representatives from animal sanctuaries both in the Hudson Valley and across the country. Local activists behind the Coalition for Catskill Game Farm Animals, for instance, purchased quite a few four-legged creatures, including aoudads, iguanas, pygmy donkeys, llamas, and guinea pigs. Most notably, Boom Boom and Jack, the two white rhinos at the farm, went to a veterinarian representing Marc Ecko, the founder of rhino-logoed fashion line Ecko Unlimited.
After the auction, the property fell into neglect and disrepair until Ben and Cathy Ballone purchased it in 2012.
Since the purchase, the Ballones worked to make the property, now dubbed The Old Game Farm, as safe as possible so people can explore the nostalgic site once again. With the help of donations, the grounds re-opened to the public for self-guided tours in 2014 (pre-registration is required). Two years later, onsite camping launched through Tentrr for guests who want to “glamp.” There are four camping sites on the grounds, two of which are new for 2019. Depending on weather conditions, one location may remain available through winter.
In 2017, the Ballones borrowed money to convert the old “Giraffe House” into an inn, now called The Long Neck Inn. The inn opened in August and features five guest rooms.
As for the design of the inn, the main level of the barn sticks as close to the original as possible. The front doors serve as shutters to create a more energy-efficient interior, while marks on the walls where giraffes use to rub their heads remain for nostalgia. Rooms are named after animals that used to live on the property – think Elephant, Giraffe, Rhino, and Zebra – and decorated with memorabilia and the animals themselves in mind. The fifth room, titled the Menagerie Room, changes theme each year to provide a unique experience for repeat guests. With each stay, the Ballones donate a portion of the proceeds to conservation efforts connected with each animal.
Designed with sustainability in mind, The Long Neck Inn utilizes environmentally friendly cleaning products, along with shampoos and conditioners. Nearly all of the lights are LED, and appliances are Energy Star-certified as well.
In addition to running the inn, Cathy is available to plan events and weddings at the property. The onsite initiative is something of an extension of Cathy’s Elegant Events, the event-planning company she began in 2011.
“A lot of couples search for unique, unusual, and historic places to get married,” says Cathy. “That’s why The Long Neck Inn is an ideal venue for couples looking to break the traditional banquet hall norm.”
Initially, the Ballones hoped to tackle the $1.5 million conversion of the remaining property into an RV park and campground. For this, the couple hoped to work with investors to create a destination space for locals and visitors alike.
“What sets this property apart from other campgrounds is the immense amount of space we have here,” Cathy explains.
The plans focused on preserving as many trees and as much of the preexisting infrastructure as possible to give guests an outdoor experience that embraces the history of the property. The theme of preserving the space’s history continues with the naming of roads after animals, such as Giraffe Way and Rhino Road.
More recently, however, they chose to list The Old Game Farm for sale with the hope of passing it along to someone who appreciates and understands the history of the space. While the property is listed, the Ballones continue to welcome guests for overnights at The Long Neck Inn. Stay tuned to The Old Game Farm’s Facebook page for updates.
“Everyone has been incredibly supportive and excited for our efforts,” enthuses Cathy. “We have been really pleased with the overwhelming reception we have received in the community.”