A Brief History of Donald J. Trump State Park

Long before he moved into the White House, the country’s most ruthless businessman-cum-reality-TV- personality bought a chunk of upstate New York, toyed with turning it into a golf course, and then donated it—for the tax write-off, of course

Seeing is believing. Yes, it's true. (Alan Kroeger/Wikimedia)

Just 45 miles north of Trump Tower in New York City lies a dagger-shaped swath of land dominated by thick brush and brambles almost indistinguishable from other forested areas of upstate New York. It’s lush and green in summer, barren and brown in winter, dotted red and pink by occasional apple trees or dogwoods. There’s little unique or notable about it, except its name: Donald J. Trump State Park

The park is a short ride away from a popular state park named for another New Yorker-turned-president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Not surprisingly, it was originally supposed to be another Trump golf course. But Trump donated the land to New York State over a decade ago—an act of philanthropy doubling as a tax write-off. Since then, the park hasn’t just gone undeveloped—it’s practically rotting.

Follow signs promoting the park, as a tourist might, and you’ll find an overgrown, unmanaged piece of property: a barely paved road seems to lead nowhere; asbestos-filled buildings covered in graffiti are crumbling; parking lots are overrun with weeds. There are no staff or amenities, no trails or campsites. It is a park in name only. 

How did a man known for plastering his name in gold across the world’s most ostentatious buildings come to be associated with a failed state park? Here’s how.

 

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1998

Trump buys 436 acres of undeveloped land from another real estate holding company in Westchester and Putnam Counties for $2 million

2002

Trump withdraws plans to build a private golf course on the land, blasting local politicians for holding up necessary permits. Trump says he’ll sell the property to housing builders. 

 

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2006

In a surprising reversal, Trump decides to donate the land to the State of New York. He claims at the April 19th press conference with then-Governor George Pataki that the land is worth $100 million, but that his children had convinced him to “do something really spectacular” in the name of conservation. Trump writes the donation off on his taxes. 

As part of the deal, New York State agrees that Trump’s name “will be prominently displayed at least at each entrance to each property.” 

2010

A budget crisis leads to closings at 58 parks and historic sites across the state—Donald J. Trump State Park, still mostly wetlands and forest, is included on the chopping block. New York stands to save $2,500 a year by closing the park.

In response, Trump threatens to explore legal action. The threat proves empty, however, and the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation maintains control of the land. 

2010-2012

Residents of Yorktown try to lease some of the land inside DJT to build a dog park, but one of the buildings on the property is found to contain asbestos. The state refuses to pay for its removal. A stalemate ensues.

Late 2015

In response to then-candidate Trump’s remarks about Muslims and Mexicans, New York politicians call for stripping Trump’s name from the park. State Senator Daniel Squadron introduces the “Anything But Trump Act.” Petitions begin trending online as well. Pete Seeger’s name becomes a popular alternative.

 

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November 2016

Donald Trump is elected president. New York residents continue to drive by (and occasionally steal) signs for the state park which has been closed for the better part of the decade and does not appear on the state’s official park locator. The fate of the dog park, the only idea that has gained any real traction within the park since it was donated, remains in limbo.

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