The city held a grand opening ceremony for the “Flat Rock” observation deck over the Chuctanunda Creek Trail Thursday.
The event took place at the public park at 180 Forest Ave., which is part of the trail.
The city hired Joe Pingitore Construction to build a 20-by-18 foot treated wooden deck on top of the flat limestone foundation of a former gatehouse that once channeled creek water through a stone and wooden sluice gate to generate electricity for the city’s industries.
Mayor Michael Cinquanti said the Chuctanunda Creek was a major part of the economic engine that generated millions of dollars of wealth for Amsterdam’s residents in the 19th and early 20th century. He said capitalizing on that heritage by converting spots such as the old flat rock gatehouse foundation into gorgeous outdoor recreation and tourism spots is a major part of the city’s revitalization strategy.
“The creek remains still flowing rapidly downhill … even though over the last couple of decades many of us forgot it was here,” Cinquanti said. “The Chuctanunda is once again becoming an artery for a new development revolution in Amsterdam, but instead of harnessing its power, we’ve cleaned up its banks to harness its natural beauty.”
Rob Spagnola, director of the city’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department, said his department paid approximately $5,000 to Joe Pingitore Construction to build the deck, which will remain unpainted for at least its first year. He said the plan for it was approved by city engineer Mike Clark.
“This was paid for by all of our sponsors,” Spagnola said. “All of our events for 2020 were canceled, so we reached out to our sponsors and every sponsor who had sent their money in we gave them a choice of either taking it back or helping us with a list of projects we gave them. Everybody believed in what we were doing and they said ‘keep the money, we’re happy to be on board.'”
Over the last several years, Amsterdam’s Tourism, Marketing and Recreation Department has attempted to rebrand the city as #festcityusa with a series of city-wide events and festivals, largely paid for by business sponsors. With nearly all events canceled this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Spagnola said he had between $20,000 and $25,000 leftover for park projects such as the observation deck, a $1,500 graffiti-proof sign detailing the history of the city’s 9-11 Memorial pillar, along with playground improvements and other small items.
Spagnola said the city has big plans for the Flat Rock observation deck and its park.
“We’re going to have food truck Fridays; we’ll have picnic tables; we want to do a farmer’s market up here,” he said. “If you want to talk longer term, everybody is interested in hunting and fishing, but there’s so much sediment built up over the years — we cleaned it up with Shuttleworth Park pond, and we want to do the same thing eventually here.”
Other new items for the park area include new “burning bush” plants positioned around the exterior of the field portion of the park and two “shade sails,” which are canvas shades made from UV light blocking material hung from wooden posts, one with a sunscreen dispenser hung from it.
Ginger Champain, the coordinator for St. Mary’s Healthcare’s Cancer Prevention in Action for Fulton, Montgomery and Schenectady Counties, said her program paid for the park’s shade sails and has partnered with the city to install them in Riverlink Park, Sassagrass Park and two sets in Veterans Park.
“The shade sails can protect people from UV sunlight, which can give them a sunburn and create cancer cells down the line,” she said. “It’s a healthy choice for residents, and there’s also a sunscreen dispenser that helps take away the barrier of ‘oh, I forgot’ or maybe ‘sunscreen is too expensive.'”
Assemblyman Angelo Santabarbara, D-Rotterdam, District 9 Legislator Robert Purtell and 4th Ward Alderman Stephen Gomula also spoke during the grand opening.
“These are challenging times, and through all of that there are still a lot of things happening in Amsterdam,” Santabarbara said. “This project, for the investment, it really opens up our history for people to enjoy it that much more.”
Purtell said emphasizing outdoor recreation is key for both the city’s economic health and that of its residents.
“There are so many more things you can do than staying inside and playing video games or driving to Saratoga,” Purtell said.
Gomula said the Flat Rock observation deck is located within his fourth ward. He thanked Spagnola and his assistant, Michele Pawlik, and said he’s hopeful to see the park project help spur development elsewhere in his ward including the Five Corners area.
“I used to fish back here in the same pond… fell in once… my cousin still makes fun of me for it,” he said. “Like Robert said, it’s good to get kids away from the video games and back into the fresh air, fishing, playing sports in the local parks.”