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Regional Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 18, 2010
Rough road to recreation
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALBANY COUNTY Rising from a discontented crowd, a hat crumpled in his hands, Tom Thacher reproached the state for its possible plans to close his family’s gift to the people of New York.
The state’s economic shortfall has become apparent with the news of likely park closures, including John Boyd Thacher park on the Helderberg escarpment.
The land was “accepted as a gift to the people of New York State,” said Tom Thacher, a descendent of John Boyd Thacher, whose widow donated the land. He told the New Scotland Town Board last night that to close the park “will make a mockery of the gift of my family to the state.”
Governor Martin Glynn announced to the New York State Legislature on March 4, 1914, “a voluntary gift to the people of the state.”
“This tract embraces the famous ‘Indian Ladder’ section in the Helderbergs a few miles west of Albany,” Governor Glynn stated. “It has long been noted as one of the beauty spots of the state. Naturalists have agreed that there is found some of the grandest scenery in the state. We find numerous caves, great precipitous cliffs, waterfalls, and pine forests. The region is rich historically and around it cluster many legends of the original owners of the soil.
“To its natural wonders is added the charm of romance… It is a veritable wonderland, and in my opinion this property will make the most picturesque park in the state of New York.”
The governor went on to describe the park’s donor John Boyd Thacher was a businessman, author, and politician, serving as mayor of Albany for four years. “From his entrance into public life he was closely identified with the political history of his country; was a public speaker of wide repute and an ardent advocate and supporter of all measures proposed for the benefit of workingmen and women,” Glynn wrote.
Family lore holds that Susan B. Anthony, a pioneering member of the women’s suffrage movement, came to speak in Albany while Thacher was the mayor. He sat next to her the whole time with a pistol in his lap, Tom Thacher said, admitting that the story may be only a story.
He and Mrs. Emma Treadwell Thacher had a summerhouse in Altamont and amassed about 350 acres in the Helderbergs, which were kept open to the public, Tom Thacher said.
Five years after Thacher’s death, his wife gave their land to the people of New York for a park to bear his name.
Area residents have mobilized, starting Facebook groups, signing an online petition to keep the park open, organizing a protest for March 3, and supporting organizations like the Friends of Thacher Park, a non-profit group associated with the park founded in the late 1990s, since the Albany Times Union ran a column Sunday reporting a list of likely park and historic site closures.
“It hits people right in the solar plexus. Out of the current budget, with things so abstract, there’s nothing more non-abstract than closing a park,” Fred LeBrun, who wrote the column, said yesterday. “It hits close to home.”
Governor David Paterson’s office referred all calls to the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, which maintains that there have been no lists of possible park closures.
LeBrun said the lists two of them came out of a meeting Friday between high-level staff at the governor’s and park’s offices. One list is based on the governor’s original proposal to cut roughly $30 million and the other list is if, as the governor now proposes, $5 million is moved from the capital budget line in the Environmental Protection Fund to an operating funds line.
“Everything is on the table now,” said Dan Keefe, the deputy public information officer for the Office of Parks. New York maintains 178 parks and 35 historic sites, he said, and it will be another couple of weeks before his department has decided which ones might close.
If the budget goes through as the governor has proposed it, “There isn’t any question… there would have to be parks and site closures,” said Robert Kuhn, the assistant regional director for the State Park’s Saratoga-Capital Region. The budget is a negotiation, though, he said, and it remains to be seen what the final budget, adopted by the legislature, will look like.
Anni Murray, who works in an office building near the airport and hikes at Thacher on the weekends, started a Facebook group that has about 3,000 members, as of Wednesday afternoon.
“I got real motivated, real fast,” she said after reading LeBrun’s Feb. 14 column, reporting that the park would likely close. She’s planning to get people together to plan a protest at the capitol on March 3 and to gather people to talk to their legislators about the virtues of the park.
Parks & Trails New York, a not-for-profit group that advocates for parks statewide, is organizing parks and trails advocacy days, on March 3 and 10, to allow for citizens from around the state to meet with their legislators and encourage them to maintain funding.
Murray realizes that there is nothing definitive on closures yet, but said it’s not too soon to start organizing, “We shouldn’t wait to find out.”
“Around the state, there is a sense the governor’s people are tampering with local pride and economies,” said LeBrun, who has heard from newspapers all over New York since the column ran. “Especially in rural areas, it’s a source of income,” he said of parks and historic sites.
Thacher park drew 223,821 visitors in 2009, Kuhn said, and between the park, the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center, and Thompson’s Lake State Park campground, there are 13 full-time employees.
“It’s just wrong,” said long-time Altamont resident Sally Townsend on Monday of closing Thacher park. “It’s a vital part of not only Altamont, but the Hilltowns,” she said.