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New Scotland Archives The Altamont Enterprise, February 25, 2010
Listed for closure
By Saranac Hale Spencer
ALBANY COUNTY The state would save about $255,000 by closing John Boyd Thacher State Park, but it would consider an agreement with another level of government or a not-for-profit organization to maintain the land in order to keep it open to the public.
“We would be willing to discuss that with any group willing to do that,” said Dan Keefe, deputy public information officer for the state’s office of parks, recreation, and historic preservation. The organization would need to have the financial assets to take on the upkeep of the park, which has an annual operating budget of about $365,000, although it takes in roughly $110,000 in revenues, he said.
New York State is facing an $8.2 billion deficit, Keefe said, so “each agency has to reduce spending this year.” Thacher is one of more than 50 parks and historic sites across the state being considered for closure as a means to reduce the state budget.
In 1914, Emma Treadwell Thacher gave 350 acres on the Helderberg escarpment to the people of New York State for a park to bear her husband’s name. Situated along Route 157, the park is located in the towns of New Scotland, Berne, Knox, and Guilderland.
Asked how a park with as many entrance points as Thacher has would be closed, Keefe said, “Because every park is different, we haven’t determined how we will do it.” Bathrooms will be closed, trails will not be maintained, parking lots won’t be plowed, and picnic tables won’t be set up, he said, but how access will be dealt with is unclear.
The department isn’t sure how much it will cost to re-open parks, Keefe said, adding that, when the time comes, “It will be a challenge.”
Albany County Legislator Brian Scavo is drafting a resolution asking the state to transfer the Thacher Park land to the county, he said.
“The county of Albany could run it more efficiently,” Scavo said, explaining that the county could rely on volunteers, corporate sponsors, and local colleges.
The state will not give up or sell any of its parkland, Keefe said. Asked if it had ever sold parkland, he said, “Not that I’m aware of.”
“It’s important we control our lands and not the state,” Deborah Busch, who is planning to run for a seat in the state assembly, told a crowd gathered at a tea party meeting last weekend after Jost Nichelsberg, the former Rensselaerville supervisor who sits on the Huyck Preserve board, suggested that the private not-for-profit organization hold the land.
There has been no discussion of getting involved with Thacher Park, Chad Jemison, executive director of the Huyck Preserve, said yesterday. The not-for-profit organization maintains 2,000 acres around Rensselaerville for research, education, and public use. It has an annual budget of less than half a million dollars, Jemison said.
The land in Thacher Park offers unique features for research and education, said Michael Nardacci, who writes a geology column for The Enterprise and has taught science.
The cross section of the cliff, one of the most identifiable parts of the park, exposes rocks from the Devonian Period, which occurred about 400 million years ago. During that period, New York State was covered in a warm, shallow ocean, Nardacci said, similar to the Bahamas today. It was rich with sea life, he said, and, when the organisms died, they sank to the bottom where they were preserved.
Records of research at the site go back to the 1700s, he said, but, in the late 1800s, notable scientists including Louis Agassiz and James Hall studied the geology around the Helderberg escarpment.
The fossils and geology at the park draw classes from area schools and universities as well as some from as far away as Kentucky and Louisiana, said Nardacci, who has brought his own classes to the park for years.
“It’s a very important site,” he said, explaining that any geology textbook references the Thacher area, which is good for teaching about fossils and the concept of weathering and erosion.
The Indian Ladder Trail, which traces a path used by Native Americans along the escarpment, passes by waterfalls, springs, caves, and exposed fossils. It offers a lot of geological features in a small span, Nardacci said, which is interesting for anyone to see.
“You have this amazing thing right in your backyard,” he said, adding of the possible closure, “That is so unbelievably shortsighted.”