A series of improvements are being planned for John Boyd Thacher State Park and Thompson’s Lake Park.
The two parks will be merged into one, according to the master plan that was released on Tuesday, Nov. 19. Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the master plan, which was designed by the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation with input from residents in the surrounding Albany County communities of Berne, Knox and New Scotland, as well as several organizations.
Capital improvements and operational enhancements will occur during the next 10 to 15 years. The exact timing of or possibility for proposed improvements isn’t clearly defined because it hinges on several factors including availability of funds. Overall, the projects are expected to “cost tens of millions of dollars,” according to the master plan.
“Thacher State Park is one of the Capital District’s most popular destinations for mountain biking, trail running and cross-country skiing for outdoor adventure and exploration,” said Cuomo in a statement. “The state is putting forward a plan to make this great park even better by creating adding more hiking trails, creating a new mountain bike park and much more.”
Thacher Park Manager Chris Fallon said he is “truly excited” to implement the proposed enhancements, which are also timed rather well.
“As we approach the 100th anniversary of the park in 2014, what better time than to adopt a plan that will guide the park into a bright, new future?” Fallon said in a statement.
State Parks Commissioner Rose Harve thanked Cuomo for providing resources to revitalize the parks “in a way that we haven’t seen in generations.”
“The master plan recommends new facilities and new partnerships to build on the park’s tradition of outdoor recreation, encourage healthy physical activity and open the park to more diverse activities such as rock-climbing and caving,” Harve said in a statement.
The plan seeks to make the park “a well-known and appealing destination for exploration, protection, interpretation and education of the public about the geologic, natural, scenic and historic resources of the Helderberg Escarpment.”
Immediate priorities are expanding the bird conservation area through both parks and creating a Natural Heritage Area that includes the Calcareous Cliff Community and land below the cliffs.
Capital infrastructure improvements are broken into three priority levels, and operational enhancements have two priority levels.
Priority 1 improvements include demolishing and repurposing material from the barn on Ketcham Road; adding four comfort stations throughout the park; viewshed restoration of Hailes Cave, Horseshoe and Indian Ladder trails; and several trail improvements.
Another first priority improvement is creating the Tory Cave Trail, which will extend north from Indian Ladder Trail and offer a view Hailes Cave opening. A bat gate will also be installed at the cave opening.
A key trail enhancement, which is also a first priority, involves creating a 4.6-mile bike path connecting the escarpment trails to Thompson’s Lake.
A mountain bike skills park will also be installed through cooperation area mountain bike groups. The skills course is planned to offer multiple levels of difficulty, along with a series of looped trails to practice skills.
“The trails and skills area will be a great recreational opportunity for riders of all ages throughout the Capital Region,” said Chris Morris, vice president of Saratoga Mountain Bike Association.
Rock climbing enthusiasts have also been praising the plan for opening portions of the Helderberg Escarpment to climbers.
“The Thacher Climbing Coalition is excited for the consideration and addition of climbing at Thacher State Park,” coalition member Gabriel Miani said in a statement. “We look forward to working with New York State Parks to establish this activity in a thoughtful, sustainable and responsible manner for the mutual benefit of the Park, the surrounding communities and the East Coast climbing community.”
The plan also seeks to expand Thompson Lake beach and building a new visitor’s center to provide rentable gathering space, educational exhibit space, and visitor orientation and information.
Operational enhancements being eyed first include opening all park gates during the day to increase access to areas; planning and implementing rock climbing proposals; seeking proposals for a commercial adventure course; and upgrading lighting and mechanical systems to increase efficiencies.
Thacher Park encompasses more than 2,150 acres, and Thompson’s Lake State Park adds another 308 acres. Portions of Thacher Park are located in the towns of New Scotland, Guilderland, Berne and Knox, with Thompson’s Lake approximately 3.5 miles west of Thacher.
The plan is posted on State Parks’ website at www.nysparks.com, and copies are also available at the Voorheesville, Guilderland and Berne public libraries.