State unveils $3.8 million visitor’s center plan at Thacher State Park

Thacher State Park nearly closed five years ago because of a state budget crisis. On Tuesday the state announced a plan to build a $3.8 million visitors center there.

“Talk about a 180-degree turnaround,” said John Kilroy, president of the Friends of Thacher Park. “We went from closure to building a new facility. We couldn’t ask for anything better.”

John Boyd Thacher State Park, named for the former Albany mayor, is one of the top attractions in the area for residents and visitors. Each year, more than 300,000 people visit the 2,500-acre park, which sits on the Helderberg escarpment and overlooks Albany and the Capital Region. It is less than 30 minutes from downtown Albany.

The four-season visitors center will have a fireplace, outdoor picnic patios, a two-story glass atrium, bathrooms, information desk, conference room and offices for staff. The building will also be available for weddings and event rentals accommodating 100 to 200 people. State officials envision it as the gathering place and end point for visitors who come to the park to hike, bike, ski and picnic.

“It will give visitors a central place to discover everything this park has to offer,” said Rose Harvey, commissioner of the State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The center will be located near the entrance to the Indian Ladder trail near the current park offices. A campaign to raise $1 million to build exhibitions and an endowment for the center is also underway by a newly formed committee called the Campaign For Thacher Park Center. The group has already raised $380,000 including a $50,000 pledge from TrustCo Bank that was announced on Tuesday.

State officials hope the visitors center will open in 2016. The construction project is part of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s New York Parks 2020 initiative aimed at renewing the state park system. The state has committed $50 million to rehabilitate and upgrade Niagara Falls State Park, $65 million to revitalize Jones Beach State Park in Long Island and numerous other projects around the state.

A master plan for Thacher Park was created in 2013 calling for expanded recreational activities at the park. Some of those initiatives are moving forward while others are still concepts on paper.

Ropes and adventure park: The state chose Wild Play Elements, a Canadian company, to build an adventure course at the Yellow Rock picnic area but the contract is still under negotiation. No opening date was set but officials hope it will open next year.

Comfort stations: Four new restroom areas will replace aging facilities.

Mountain biking: A skills course for mountain bikers is expected to open this fall.

Rock climbing: The state is cautiously moving forward on plans to open the cliff walls to rock climbers. Members of the Thacher Climbing Coalition are scouting and developing safe climbing routes. There is no date set for opening the park to climbers.

Caving: Northeastern Cave Conservancy is working with the park to open Hailes Cave and Tory Cave, but there is no date set.

Bike path: The state has received federal funds to expand paved bike paths within the park. Officials also hope to extend a bike path to Thompsons Lake Campground. There is no date set for either project.

The pool closed in 2007 and was removed in 2010, and there are no plans to rebuild it.