Albany County

Thacher Park opens new visitor center

Rock-climbing wall, adventure course on the way
The new visitors' center at Thacher State Park in New Scotland opened Thursday.
The new visitors' center at Thacher State Park in New Scotland opened Thursday.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

NEW SCOTLAND — John Boyd Thacher State Park finally has a place where visitors can get the lay of the land, learn the park’s history and even find a real bathroom.

More than 200 people turned out Thursday to witness the grand opening of the first visitors center the 2,500-acre park has ever had: perched atop an escarpment in the Helderberg Mountains that offers views stretching from the Adirondacks to the Berkshires.

“Before this, wel had no indoor space to accommodate them, so this is a really nice addition to the park,” said Alane Ball Chinian, state parks director for the Saratoga-Capital Region, which includes Thacher.

The state invested $3.8 million over the past two years to build the 8,240-square-foot building, and the Open Space Institute raised an additional $800,000 to pay for interpretive exhibits about the natural and geological history of the fossil-strewn park.

OSI also paid for the furnishings inside the building, which is near the western end of the popular Indian Ladder Trail, along a cliff-face that is one of the park’s signature features. There are observation decks on the building, and picnic areas have been added nearby.

“It is the place that will connect us all together — people and parks,” said state Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation Commissioner Rose Harvey, who spoke at the event.

In all, the park atop the Helderberg Escarpment — which was under threat of closure as recently as the state budget crisis of 2010 — has seen $10 million in new investment since Gov. Andrew Cuomo initiated his $900 million Parks 2020 program in 2015.

“Thacher Park, and now the Thacher Park Center, is a signature project of the Park 2020 plan,” Harvey said.

Politicians and state parks officials cut a ceremonial ribbon Thursday to open the new visitors’ center at Thacher State Park. (STEPHEN WILLIAMS)

The park draws about 300,000 visitors per year, but there’s hope the visitors center will increase that number.

“This is a new destination for Thacher Park,” Chinian said. “It’s a four-season destination. It’s a place where people can begin their exploration of the park, see exhibits, talk to staff, have an event. There’s an event space.”

The park is named for John Boyd Thacher, a former Albany mayor whose family, in 1914, donated the first 350 acres for what became the park. Today, it encompasses 2,500 acres, with a number of outdoor pavilions and 28 miles of hiking and mountain biking trails.

“I think this will be a linchpin for the renaissance and renewal to this park,” said state Sen. Neil Breslin, D-Albany, who recalled hitchhiking from Albany to the park during his teenage years and later visiting when he had a young family.

Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, said Thacher Park is a favorite spot for his 15-year-old son, who is autistic.

“He’s learning about nature. He may not be able to do it in the classroom, but he can do it here,” Santabarbara said.

The new visitors’ center at Thacher State Park in New Scotland opened Thursday. (STEPHEN WILLIAMS)

The new building, which uses solar panels for part of its energy supply, was designed by Saratoga Associates, of Saratoga Springs.

“This was truly a public-private partnership, and everyone involved has been very proud of it,” said Joe Martens, a former state commissioner of environmental conservation who is now a senior consultant to the Open Space Institute, a private land preservation organization.

Further improvements are planned. A rock-climbing wall is expected to open around Memorial Day weekend, and an adventure course will open in July. Restroom buildings at the Hailes Cave and Paint Mine picnic areas are scheduled to be replaced.

Reach Gazette reporter Stephen Williams at 395-3086, [email protected] or @gazettesteve on Twitter.

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