New life for old county park
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
An enthusiastic artist scrawls away while doing some crafts in the lodge at Lawson Lake Park. Until a couple of years ago, the county didn’t know the park existed, and it had fallen into disuse over decades. Now, the park offers a place for kids all over the county to play together.
ALBANY COUNTY — Efforts by Albany County officials are making Lawson Lake a place for kids to spend their summer, away from the Internet and in the sunshine.
After decades of neglect, the cabins in the park are being cleaned up so they can be used by kids from the city of Albany, the Helderberg Hilltowns, and everywhere in between.
County Executive Daniel McCoy, District Attorney David Soares, and Sheriff Craig Apple have been working together for about two years to get the once-neglected county property ready for public use.
McCoy didn’t even know the 420-acre park existed until, while on a listening tour around the county, someone quipped about whether or not McCoy was in the parks business.
“It was shocking to realize this was here and nobody was doing anything with it,” McCoy told The Enterprise last week.
He said the cabins and other buildings were full of stuff the first time he came down to see the area — which sits about 11 miles south of Thacher Park in New Scotland — some of the items even dated back to the 1960s.
McCoy reached out to Apple to help with the cleanup, and over 387 hours of inmate work were put into the cabins, trails, and other park infrastructure.
Work on the park has been done by volunteers, so the county currently has little to no money actually invested in the area, according to county spokeswoman Mary Rozak. She also said the county doesn’t know the exact age of the park.
Monetary donations have helped the park go from overgrown and undeveloped to having clear walking trails and clean buildings for kids to do activities in.
Now, current kids have the opportunity to catch their first fish, learn how to canoe, and make crafts in a rustic lodge. But, back when Lawson Lake County Park was in its prime, an earlier generation was enjoying the natural beauty of Albany County.
McCoy said that people often share their stories with him about memories they have from childhood of playing in the park on warm summer days many years ago.
McCoy, who has spent his entire life in the city of Albany — except for his time serving in Iraq — himself remembers being sent to Thacher Park, in the Helderbergs, as a child during the summer.
“I think my mother just wanted to get rid of me for the day,” he said, with a laugh.
The county executive walked out on a shaky metal dock over the lake, in his dress pants and crisp, white, monogrammed shirt — the cuffs read DPM in script letters — and talked about the importance of city kids going to more rural areas of the county, and rural kids getting into the city.
McCoy said going to Thacher Park and walking the trails as a kid “opened up a whole new world for me.”
“There’s always that illusion about city versus rural life,” McCoy said.
City kids come into the country and think they’re going to get eaten by a bear, and rural kids go into the city assuming they’re going to get mugged, he said.
McCoy emphasized wanting to break down those barriers, and have “kids just be kids.”
“Kids communicate so much on the Internet now,” he continued, “they never get to see each other face to face.”
Currently, the Boys and Girls Club of Albany uses the park for day camps. McCoy said he hopes that next year the park will be open for the entire summer, and eventually offer overnight camps.
The large lodge with a stone fireplace, used by the Boys and Girls Club, has two donated pianos and cafeteria tables donated by schools for the kids to use. The lodge also has a stage with decades-old murals on the walls.
He wants to bring back an opportunity that was lost when the pool at Thacher Park closed: the chance for kids from all over the county to learn and play together.
McCoy also would like to extend the bus program fostered by the county’s partnership with the Capital District Transportation Authority to bring kids from a wider area to the park.
McCoy described the park as a free summer camp alternative, but is also keeping in mind the people who came here in their youth who want to enjoy the park in a different way now.
He wants to have a pavilion built by the waterside where people can sit and enjoy the view across the lake. Also, he envisions the pavilion with solar panels on its roof to harness power for the park.
Another plan is to place benches along the trail around the lake.
“At the end of the day, to me it’s about the kids,” McCoy said.
McCoy wants to expand the summer youth program to give kids more options and make sure there is something for everyone to enjoy.
“We want them to go out and explore things,” he said.
“You ask a kid if they’ve ever played Kick the Can,” McCoy said, “and they’re like ‘What the hell is Kick the Can?’”