Plan calls for merging Thacher and Thompson’s Lake parks

NEW SCOTLAND — Officials have released plans for the future of the John Boyd Thacher and Thompson’s Lake state parks, which among other proposals will combine them under a single name, and run them as one.

The plan says, “the two parks will merge into one cohesive park, providing a wide variety of recreational amenities including hiking, swimming, climbing, camping, picnicking, and educational programming.”

Though the parks may be combined in name, they are already managed together and the change will not effect staffing, said officials.

The New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation released a 30-page draft master plan this week prioritizing the parks’ building projects, service improvements, and programs in the coming decade.

In March 2012, the office announced it was creating a master plan, by beginning a year-long review and public feedback process at the two Helderberg parks.

To create the parks’ first master plan, the office assembled an internal planning team of administrators, park staff, and professional planners. They held two public feedback sessions in May last year, also encouraging the public to write or email the office during an official comment period that extending more than a month.

Under the plan, Thompson’s Lake could soon be known as the John Boyd Thacher State Park Campgrounds.

The plan also calls for the construct of a new visitors’ center atop the escarpment; a redesign of the former Thacher pool area, which will be developed into an open park, without water, basketball court, and ropes course; designation of rock climbing areas; removal of the current shooting range; the demolition of eroded and unused parking lots; the restoration of closed vender booths; and expansion of the beach and camp areas at Thompson’s Lake.

In1996, Thacher’s Olympic-sized swimming pool, which was a major draw for visitors and an important part of the park’s identity in previous decades, was demolished. At the time, the Pataki administration promised a comparable replacement, possibly a water park at Thacher, but no development materialized as funding dried up. The new plans do not include a pool at the site.

“Having a new visitor’s center is a really important impact,” said Office of Parks planner, Salim Chishti, “There has not been a central place at the park where people can get information and orient themselves.”

The proposed visitors’ center will offer exhibits on geology, history, and nature and include a gift shop, public meeting rooms, a fireplace, restrooms, park office, and kitchen facilities.

The center will be constructed with natural materials to give it the appearance of an “Andirondack or Catskills cabin,” states the plan. It will be built at the Indian Ladder Picnic Area.

The visitors’ center and its exhibits are part of a larger goal by planners to showcase the parks’ traditional appeal.

“One focus was to reconnect the park to its origins, with the original purpose spotlighting the natural escarpment and natural beauty of the area,” said Chishti.

As a whole, planners envisioned the entire park becoming an interactive museum, with trails and new signs directing visitors to its historical sites where native peoples had camped for 8,000 years. The focus would also be on geological formations, such as caves and fossils, for which attractions the park was founded.

The plan calls for the creation of a Natural Heritage Area, which would encompass the Calcareous Cliff Community along the escarpment and areas found below the cliff.

The park-wide museum concept would also incorporate a trove of information about where to locate the parks’ flora and fauna. The plan calls for expanding the bird conservation area at Thacher and developing a comprehensive plan to control invasive species.

The parks’ trail systems will be overhauled under the plan, adding new paths and expanding old ones, with some allowing for more mountain bike courses. One of the new trails would be a 4.6-mile bike path connecting Thacher and Thompson’s Lake. Additional trails would also be designated and developed for hiking or cross-country skiing.

The trails’ project, as well as other parts of the plan, will remove some trees and brush that are blocking the view from the escarpment at a number of locations.

As part of the parks’ museum concept, the recommended trails would connect routes to several notable historical, cultural, and geological sites not already accessible by the current systems state the report. The trails part of the plan also proposes expanding partnerships with neighboring private landowners and organizations in the hopes of developing more external trails to the park.

The plan proposes the re-design of several picnic areas and notes one of the most popular as the Glenn Doone Picnic Area. The plan recommends building a new comfort station at the site and rehabilitating the area’s patio and constructing a roof above it. A new playground is also proposed for the location.

A public hearing on the draft plan will be held Aug. 1 at 7 p.m. at the New Scotland Town Hall. 

Chishti said official would make a presentation and answer questions, putting any comments into the plan’s official record. Public input submitted during an official comment period, which lasts about 30 days after the meeting, will be incorporated into the final draft.

Copies of the draft plan will be made available at Voorheesville, Berne and Guilderland libraries prior to the hearing. The plan will also be available on Office of Parks website, www.nyparks.com/inside-our-agency/master-plans.aspx.

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