Renderings of the Thacher Park Center show the geology wall to teach park-goers about the area's history, a lounge space to relax in, and an outdoor patio to enjoy the view from the Helderberg Escarpment. Submitted photo
The John Boyd Thacher State Park has faced a bumpy road in the last decade, including the threat of closure five years ago. But that has since changed as park officials broke ground for the new Thacher Park Center.
The $3.8 million project is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 plan to reinvigorate state parks. The center will include space for lectures, year-round events, a geological history exhibit and a gathering space for special events. It will sit beside the Indian Ladder Trail picnic area and trailhead.
However, Thacher Park Center is not all that will be new to the park. According to state park officials, trails for hiking, biking and skiing will be expanded, and rock climbing will be carefully introduced. Caves will also be open for exploring, along with new playground for the youngest visitors.
“It will give visitors a central place to explore everything the park has to offer,” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation. “We’ll finally have a room with a view.”
Funds for the Thacher Park Center and new activities will be gathered through both public and private efforts. The Open Space Institute, which spearheaded the campaign for the center, has already helped raise $370,000 that includes a $220,000 state grant to reach a $1 million goal. Trustco Bank gifted an additional $50,000 toward the project.
Alane Ball Chinian, Capital-Saratoga Region parks director, said that this project presents a new hope for Thacher Park’s future, specifically after the hardships the park has faced in the recent years.
“The park had suffered from decades of underinvestment, closed during the recession, and had suffered layoffs and reductions. Attendance was dwindling, especially following the closure of the pool in 2006,” said Chinian.
According to Harvey, before Cuomo’s NY Parks 2020 plan, that promised no park would close, Thacher faced over $1 million worth of backlogged needs and was never consistently addressed in the state budget.
“It has been 40 years in a state of deterioration. It has never been in the Capitol’s consciousness on a regular basis,” said Harvey.
Since Cuomo’s parks plan, Harvey said, Thacher has been receiving much more in the state budget for the last three years. Thacher Park Center is one of the plan’s signature projects to revitalize the state parks.
Renderings of the 8,240-square foot center show a patio overlooking the Helderberg Escarpment and a lounge area for people to rest. The lobby will feature an exhibit on the park’s geology to highlight the fossils and history. As well, a 1,340-square foot space will be available to reserve for family reunions, weddings, and other large private events.
Harvey said the center will help connect people to the area’s history. She said it will be the central hub for the new recreational activities, which will be introduced carefully to ensure safety, but will help people gain outdoor skills.
Friends of Thacher Park President John Kilroy said that not only will the center revitalize the park with new activities, but also in terms of student education. While schools used to fund field trips to Thacher on a regular basis, many districts can no longer afford the frequent trips.
The Friends of Tacher Park currently fund bus trips to get students to the park and the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, but Kilroy said that the expanded educational programs will definitely engage students. “There’s going to be caves. Kids love to go in caves,” he said. “It’s going to be absolutely fantastic.”
Weather permitting, park officials projected that the center should be complete and open in 2016.
“Thacher is kind of a holy grail of parks in the Albany area, and it’s so close to the city, yet it’s so far away in that it’s so large, so sprawling with so many opportunities that nobody knows where to start,” said Harvey.