A temporary zoo housing humans on vacation? That’s one way to look at what’s happening on the former site of the Catskill Game Farm, but its new owners, Ben and Cathy Ballone, prefer the mission statement, “Keeping the memory alive and breathing new life into the property!” You won’t find any captive critters there anymore, but the former Giraffe House at the iconic tourist attraction has now been converted into a boutique hotel, the Long Neck Inn.
First opened in 1933 by Roland Lindemann, with an initial population of deer, donkeys and sheep, the Catskill Game Farm was the first privately owned zoo in the US, and a much-loved weekend destination for families from the tri-state metropolitan area for eight decades. While exotic animals including a black panther and two white rhinos were among its 2,000+ four-legged inhabitants after it became officially recognized as a zoo in 1958, what distinguished the Game Farm among very young visitors in particular was its status as the apotheosis of the petting zoo, where a child might bottle-feed one of hundreds of wandering lambs, kids or fawns.
Lindemann’s daughter Kathie Schulz shut down the zoo operation and sold off the animals in 2006. In 2012, the Ballones bought the 200+-acre property, renaming it the Old Game Farm. Until recently it was being rented out on occasion for photo shoots or events such as the 2016 Meltasia festival, but otherwise lying fallow. Now the proprietors have done a full renovation on the Giraffe House building and converted it into a hotel with five bedrooms that, during the warmer months, can be rented out separately or all at once for a wedding or family reunion. There are also communal spaces including an eight-person hot tub, living room, Pond Room, game room, dining room, kitchen, coffee station and wet bar.
Fancifully decorated with animal art and old Game Farm signage, the rooms are geared to evoke nostalgia among people whose parents took them to visit the zoo during its long heyday. Each has a queen or king bed; three of them are also equipped with a chaise that can be converted into a twin bed. Three have balconies, three are pet-friendly and the most luxurious, the Giraffe Room, comes with a three-person Jacuzzi. The Zebra and Elephant Rooms share a common vestibule and can be rented in combination. All rooms offer private en suite baths, memory foam mattresses, radiant-floor heating, individually controlled air conditioning, smart TVs and Bluetooth radio. Pricing ranges from $188 to $275 per room per night.
Glamping is also a feature of the newly refurbished resort. The four sites, featuring a variety of views, canvas tents on platforms plus room for additional pop-up tents, rent for $135 to $145 per night via Tentrr.
Many of the old Game Farm buildings still stand, and the site’s 3.5 miles of paved walkways – which connect to a 20+ mile mountain biking/hiking trail system that leads to waterfalls and swimming holes – are open to hotel visitors and campers. Self-guided tours by the general public can also be arranged, from April to November. The Old Game Farm plans to host events including photography workshops conducted by Matthew Christopher, author of Abandoned America; the first one in 2020 is scheduled for May 30 from 10:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To reserve a room in the Long Neck Inn or arrange to tour the Old Game Farm site, call (518) 719-9172, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.theoldgamefarm.com. The Facebook page at www.facebook.com/theoldgamefarm is the best place to keep tabs on upcoming events.