Thacher Park begins construction on $4.8M visitors center

Five years ago, budget woes almost forced the closure of one of the Capital Region’s most popular state parks.

On Tuesday, ground was broken on a nearly $5 million Thacher Park Center that will showcase all there is to see, do and learn at John Boyd Thacher State Park in the Helderbergs.

The 8,240-square foot building, scheduled to open next year, will be located at the Indian Ladder area, atop the park’s escarpment that affords sweeping views northward of the entire region.

“This building will serve multiple purposes – education, a visitors center, museum, meeting space and park office,” said Alane Ball Chinian, Capital-Saratoga region parks director.

More than 100 people turned out for Tuesday’s groundbreaking including state parks Commissioner Rose Harvey; regional park Commission Chair Heather Mabee of Saratoga Springs; and representatives of various non-profit groups partnering to make the project possible.

“This isn’t just a symbolic groundbreaking,” Chinian said. “We have a signed contract with contractors.”

The state is providing $3.8 million for construction. Separately, a $1 million private fund-raising campaign has been launched for exhibits and displays that tell the park’s unique geologic features, cultural and natural history and recreational opportunities. Two recent donations were made by Trustco ($50,000) and Barbara Glaser ($10,000) of Saratoga Springs, a regional park commission board member.

The campaign has raised $380,000 to date.

The center will also have meeting space for events, lectures and corporate functions, and will be available to rent for special occasions such as weddings.

The structure was designed by Saratoga Associates of Saratoga Springs.

“This place is a gateway to the Capital Region,” said Erik Kulleseid, Open Space Institute senior vice president.

The park, which observed its 100th anniversary in 2014, has been well-known to generations of area residents. The group Friends of Thacher Park is funding bus transportation so that inner-city kids from Albany can visit the 2,500-acre park.

Plans call for new recreational offerings as Thacher heads into its second century, to broaden the park’s appeal to more user groups. Separate areas will be designated for rock climbing, mountain biking and a ropes course. It’s also hoped that some caves will be opened to visitors.

“There are so many places to explore,” Harvey said. “It can be a little bit overwhelming. Where do you start? This center will answer all of those types of questions and give visitors a central place to discover all that this park has to offer.”