As humans, we are intrinsically linked to the land – for our heritage, food, livelihoods, recreation, and our wellbeing. When we speak about the connection of people to place, we are speaking about a story. This is a story about a generous and humble man, S. Gerald Ingerson (1923-2012) who grew up and raised his family in the Thousand Islands. It is being told because the places that mark us are often the places that mean the most to us. A special place for Gerald and his family is the woods just outside the Village of Clayton, on the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve.
He was a devoted father, husband, businessman, and active community member. He and his wife Gertrude, the love of his life, were married for 69 years. By trade, Gerald was a developer who owned and operated S. Gerald Ingerson Incorporated for over 30 years. His community-centric ideals always centered around always wanting people to succeed and never expecting anything in return for a good deed. Being the ‘salt of the earth’ person that he was, he turned down the Clayton Citizen of the Year award numerous times. And for 89 years, he never stopped learning and loving life, with nature intertwined in all he did.
With grace, love, and many cherished memories, his story is told today by a few of his grandchildren. From an early age Gerald loved nature. One of his priorities was to instill this valuable quality upon his family. “Every week was for work and every weekend was for family and the woods,” said Tricia Bannister, a granddaughter. “He treasured the dirt on his hands in the garden, the cracking of sticks and crunching of leaves under his feet while out for a walk, and the peaceful sounds of birdwatching. The fresh air, building a trail by hand, and the company that surrounded him were all gifts, too. Gerald embodied the outdoor experience.”
“He had a way of making each and every one of his family members feel special and connecting us to the woods,” said Natalia Hatton, another granddaughter. Friends and local community members who asked his permission to go for a walk, hunt on his land, or go on another adventure were always met with a resounding yes. “He wanted people to have a good time and, most importantly, benefit from experiences out on the land,” said Natalia.
The benefits of nature provide stress relief, improved short-term memory, improved mental health, less inflammation, creativity, and much more. Gerald was proof of these benefits. Through outdoor interactions, he taught the people around him how to love, care for, and respect the land, the Thousand Islands region and beyond. He led those around him through a powerful and enriching nature experience with ease.
With six kids, thirteen grandchildren, and a handful of great grandchildren, one can only imagine the crew that celebrated togetherness in those woods. “Even the mundane task of marking trails by tying branches with little colored pieces of vinyl was something I always remember doing with a large group. Grandpa was the heart and soul of everything,” said Natalia.
Wintertime was filled with cross country skiing and snowshoeing on the trails in the earlier days. The next generation took to sledding down “some pretty steep hills with a questionable number of large trees in our path,” said Hatton. The joy echoed off the trees and well into spring, when Gerald had “Easter gifts” for the grandchildren. He brilliantly brought this tradition full circle by having the kids release the ducklings to the ponds in the woods for the grandchildren to hunt in the fall.
Today the family continues to tap the trees and make maple syrup, keeping this delicious “family woods” tradition alive. And at a recent TILTKids Trek about Maple Sugaring, Gerald’s great-granddaughter Camilla was a participant. She ran through the woods with an admirable reckless abandon. There is no doubt Gerald’s spirit lives on in the next generation!
In 2011, the Ingerson family was inspired to conserve this special place by their patriarch, S. Gerald Ingerson, who introduced them to the outdoors and the wonder of nature. Preserving these 140 acres of land protected McCarn Creek, a tributary to French Creek, which is an important spawning habitat for fish species, and serves as a filter to clean water that flows into the St. Lawrence.
In the fall of 2021, I walked out to the historic trestle bridge with members of Gerald’s family. While under construction, it was a bit shocking for the family to see the transformation. As her eyes began to well up, and without hesitation, Tricia said, “He would be so excited about this, it is so much bigger than he likely imagined.”
The complete restoration of the trestle and trail will be celebrated this July, and just in time for the 150th Anniversary of the Village of Clayton. "I can remember walking the trail where the old train tracks used to be leading up to the trestle and finding pieces of coal that fell off the train cars of the old steam engines on their way into Clayton. Proof of an era we all have tried to imagine in Clayton,” shared grandson Anthony Ingerson. The history this preserve holds is reminiscent of the very roots of the Thousand Islands.
Gerald Ingerson was of a time and generation that knew deep in their heart and soul that the land was at the root of it all. “My grandpa never did things for recognition or clout. I think that's why our family is so incredibly proud to have his name on this property. He was all about doing things for others and making them smile. We thank TILT for their hard work and vision to create the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve and revive the trestle so that future generations can enjoy it. It preserves the land and more importantly his memory and legacy,” said Natalia. Every family member that spoke of Gerald had a light in their eyes and longing for those days with him in the woods. Nature is here for everyone, especially the woods just outside of the Village of Clayton. Go for a walk today, you won’t regret it.
By Terra Bach, TILT Director of Development and Communications
Terra Bach is Director of Development and Communications for the Thousand Islands Land Trust. A SUNY Buffalo graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in English and minor in Environmental Studies, she has a strong commitment to the well-being of the environment, which she attributes to her family's more than 100 year history on and in the St Lawrence - a true river rat at heart. Terra has been actively involved in the community as the chair of the Thousand Islands Young Leaders Organization (TIYLO), a member of the Zenda Community Garden for 8 years and currently enjoys volunteering with various other organizations.
[Header photo and famly photographs are courtesy of the Ingerson family. The capiton for the header photo is: Gerald’s great granddaughter Milana Ingerson walks on the Rivergate Trail near the trestle, on the S. Gerald Ingerson Preserve.]
This 140 acre preserve, lying south of Clayton's village is a mosaic of wildlife habitats: successional shrub lands, oak and pine along with maple forests and McCarn Creek running through. It includes two miles of the Sissy Danforth Rivergate Trail, which here, is restricted to non-motorized traffic. The Ingerson family was inspired to conserve this land by their father, S. Gerald Ingerson, who introduced them to the outdoors and the wonder of nature. Preserving this land protects McCarn Creek, a tributary to French Creek, which is important spawning habitat for fish species, and serves as a filter to clean water that flows into the St. Lawrence.
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