The owner of the former Seneca Army Depot vows to continue deer conservation and pursue a plan to resume tours

On the heels of this weekend’s news that Seneca White Deer Inc. will end its tours Dec. 29, property owner Earl Martin announced that he “will continue uninterupted” protection and managment of the unique deer herd at the former Seneca Army Depot. Martin also said it won’t be the last chance for the public to see the deer and other wildlife on the roughly 3,000 acres zoned for conservation north of Route 135 in Seneca County.

Martin said he will evaluate the closing tourism operation, best management practices and lessons learned “with the objective being to provide tours again in the future.” While Seneca White Deer will no longer provide the service, there “will likely be tours again soon managed by a different team,” Martin said.

“We hope that Dennis Money and Seneca White Deer will collaborate with us in making sure that interpretive materials, website transfer, and other administrative items are made available so that we can continue to provide the public the opportunity to interact with these beautiful white deer,” Martin said.

Money, president of Seneca White Deer Inc., announced that the nonprofit’s Board of Directors last week voted to end the tour program because revenues and donations weren’t able to meet expenses. Board Vice President Carl Patrick said Seneca White Deer Inc. would reach out individually to donors regarding their contributions, along with refunding any 2020 tour deposits. Patrick added the organization would work to find new homes for their displays from the John and Josephine Ingle Welcome Center, after which Seneca White Deer will continue as a conservation advocacy organization.

Seneca County Manager Mitch Rowe on Monday said when Money announced the end of the tours, Rowe quickly notified all the county supervisors. Ending the tour program is “a big deal,” he said. The county has a stake in the success of a program there, Rowe said, citing the impact on local tourism, economic development and agriculture. The county contributed $10,000 to Seneca White Deer Inc. this year from its hotel/motel tax revenue. The county's 2020 budget calls for contributing another $10,000, which will have to be reevaluated due to the circumstances, he said.

The county committees meet Tuesday night for their regularly scheduled monthly meetings. Rowe said he expects the future of the conservation area of the former depot, known as Deer Haven, will be discussed in the Economic Development and Tourism meeting and that of Agriculture and Environmental Affairs.

Earl Martin bought 7,000 acres of the former Army Depot in 2016 and worked with Seneca White Deer Inc. to use part of the property, known as Deer Haven, for a year-round tour program. The site is home to the world’s largest herd of distinctive white deer and rich in military history, housing bunkers and artifacts.

Seneca White Deer ran its first official tour on Nov. 16, 2017. Over the next two years, more than 15,000 people toured the site, said Money. The treasured white deer also gained national television coverage last December after "CBS Sunday Morning" contributor Carl Mrozek visited Deer Haven in Romulus to shoot video of the herd.

Money said the board’s decision came after the most recent round of fundraising, which included the grant from the Seneca County Board of Supervisors, and an annual year-end appeal couldn’t make up for an ongoing deficit.

Seneca White Deer Inc. will continue as a conservation advocacy organization. Its final day of tour operations will be Sunday, Dec. 29, 2019, with tours at 10 a.m., noon, and 2 p.m. You can book tours online at senecawhitedeer.org or by calling the Welcome Center at 315-759-8220 Wednesday through Sunday.