Thacher gets $3.8M from state for center

Visitors have long been attracted to the century-old Thacher Park, renowned for its geological formations; soon they will have a center to explain the history and geology of the park.

NEW SCOTLAND —John Boyd Thacher State Park will get $3.8 million for its new visitors’ center, the governor’s office announced on Tuesday. The Helderberg park is to receive almost half of $8.7 million allocated to Capital Region parks.
“We’re really excited about it,” said Chris Fallon, park manager at Thacher, yesterday. “It’s really going to give the park a facelift,” he said of the new visitors’ center, slated for the Indian Ladder Picnic Area.

The Thacher funding — part of $90 million statewide allocated in the 2014-15 budget — follows on the heels of the adoption last year of the park’s first-ever master plan. The visitors’  facility was a centerpiece to that plan.

Alane Ball Chinian, director of the Saratoga-Capital District Region for the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation, described the fund allocation as “so exciting. We’re thrilled to be in a position to be able to give back to that great park.”

Ball Chinian hopes to see a groundbreaking on the new center later this year, with it opening in late 2015.

Although there are no detailed plans yet for the visitors’ center yet, Ball Chinian said it will function as a multipurpose building, with exhibits about park history and space for meetings or family gatherings.

“This year will be all about planning,” Ball Chinian said.

The Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center — located nearby at Thompson’s Lake State Park, which, according to the master plan, is merged with Thacher Park — will continue to educate visitors about the nature dimension of the park, while the new visitors’ center will focus more on the park’s geology and history; the park has long been popular for geological study.

Other exhibits will focus on the history of Thacher Park. “We really want to honor the donor of the property,” Ball Chinian said. The original park land was donated to the state by the widow of John Boyd Thacher — Emma Treadwell Thacher.

Ball Chinian added that they hope to educate people about Colonial history and settlement in the area.

“This building will be the new park headquarters,” where staff can work and also greet and talk with the public, Ball Chinian said.

The hope is to “make the park appeal to many different kinds of people,” she continued, including those interested in all the recreational and active opportunities the park offers as well as those just looking for a relaxing day outside, or inside learning some more local history.

She also pointed out that the new center will be a year-round resource, acting as a nice “winter warming hut” for visitors who enjoy recreation such as snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

Ball Chinian thinks the addition of rock climbing will also increase the regional draw of the park outside the Capital Region.

“The place where this building is going is so beautiful,” she said.

Over the past couple of years, concerns have been raised by the public as to whether it is safe to build the center where it is proposed because of the karst topography at the site. Charles Ver Straeten, a sedimentary geologist with the New York State Museum, said at a hearing in August that fracturing in the rock makes it unwise to build so close to the edge of the escarpment.

When asked about this issue Tuesday, Ball Chinian told The Enterprise, “These projects go through a thorough engineering review,” which includes having geologists assess the safety of the building site. She was eager to iterate that the plans are public and, as any new information comes out of the reviews, it can be viewed by anyone.

“The building is being designed to follow the natural shape of the property,” she added.

Throughout the construction of the visitors’ center, the Indian Ladder Trail will stay open, Ball Chinian said, adding that the park is currently “doing work to stabilize the Indian Ladder Trail itself” to keep it wide enough for visitors and to slow the erosion of the path.

Many other parks received funds from the state. Notably, Niagara Falls State Park was given $9 million, and Jones Beach State Park, which was damaged by Hurricane Sandy was allocated $10 million.

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