By Jelane A. Kennedy
Visiting John Boyd Thacher State Park has been a family favorite for generations. When I first met Eileen one of the first places we went to hike near Albany was Thacher Park as the locals call it. She and her family really considered the park their home space. They had hiked, picnicked, and swam (the swimming pool was removed years ago) at Thacher park since she was a little girl. They also camped nearby at Thompson Lake Campground, which is another section of the Thacher park system. There are 140 campsites, a beach and other recreational activities. The restrooms and showers have been updated in recent years. She always talks about how even her grandparents had memories they shared of picnicking at Thacher park.
So what is the allure of Thacher Park? For one thing is it is not too far away from Albany. Eileen always claims it is a 20-minute ride (but actually it is about 40 minutes). The temperature is almost always 10 degree’s cooler than down in Albany. On those hot summer nights when it is muggy, heading up to Thacher with a picnic dinner or maybe a plan to barbeque is always a favorite. The hiking trail system is very unique, with 25 miles of trails it is not often you see many folks or that you feel crowded unless you choose to. When you drive up to Thacher, Hailes Cave Road intersects the park so on the one side of the road you have a woodlands hiking area. With Lucy we often hiked the nature trail that started at Paint Mine picnic area. She loved taking a dip in the stream to cool off. Also there is a great waterfall tucked along the trail.
The park is actually known for the waterfalls and the geological uniqueness of the Helderberg Escarpment, which has world famous fossil-bearing formations. The trail system on the other side of the road includes the Indian Ladder trail that allows you to hike below the escarpment cliff line. It is called Indian Ladder because it was a trail thought to have been used by the Mohican Indians quite often and there were actual ladders (tree ladders) used to move up and down from the cliffs to the trail below the cliff line. On this trail you have the opportunity to walk behind another one of the waterfalls in the park.
From the Overlook (handicap accessible) parking area you can look out over the City of Albany and on a clear day see the mountains over in Massachusetts, the Green Mountains in Vermont and the Adirondack mountains up in the northern part of New York. During the year people come to the park to watch the hawks soar over the cliffs created by the escarpment. There are 171 birds that have been found in the park boundaries. People also come each spring to help the salamanders cross the road as the make their migration to the vernal ponds.
In another section of the park you can find the Emma Treadwell Thacher Nature Center. It is a great place to visit and has become known as a great place to bring kids to learn about nature. It is connect by a trail to Thompson’s Lake campground so it is easy to walk the kids over for programs if you are camping. In the winter they also have snowshoes available to hike the trails nearby. A great team of naturalist who do programming all year around staffs the nature center. We have stopped by throughout the year to see the exhibits, watch the birds or attend a program.
One of the new things the park now has going for it is the Visitor Center (handicap accessible). It is a beautiful building that recently opened. It looks out over the escarpment and has multiple exhibits inside that highlight the geologic and explain the features of the park. This summer we took our friend Johanna up while she was staying with our friend Gayle on her visit from New Mexico. It was a hot Sunday afternoon in Albany and it was a nice reprieve to go up and see the new center and check out the exhibits. The design of the center allows you to see the vistas outside and even in the small details of the décor they took advantage of those spaces to include pictures of fossils found in the area. There is also on the lower floor a replica of a cave as the area is also known for spelunking.
A few years ago the Governor started a program called “I love my Parks”, during one of the first years we volunteered for the day up at Thacher and there in started the Garden Gang which we volunteered with for a couple of years. We helped to revitalize the multiple garden spaces along the road in the park. It was during one of our gardening days that Eileen got the idea that the South entrance sign which had a raised bed space that was our responsibility, that maybe we should see about refreshing the mural that was integrated into that area. So we checked with the head of our group who talked with the Park Manager. This lead into a winter long project for us. When they took down the old South and North entrance signs we discovered that it wasn’t only the paint that had taken a beating but so had the wood of the sign. It became clear that as it crumb at our fingertips that it wasn’t just a touch-up job but that we would have to start fresh. Which meant designing new murals within the confines of the structure of the old ones. This lead up to hiking the Indian Ladder Trail to try and find where the last person had gotten the inspiration for the shape of the sign and to really get to know the colors and composition of the landscape so that we could try and create something that looked on target for the area.
We had no idea what we had gotten ourselves into it was a really big project. On our hike to find the spot where the last artist got their ideas we had just about given up when Eileen looked behind us and noticed as we started to leave the waterfall she spotted the inspiration for the structure of the signs. I took multiple pictures, which we used to plan out our work. I started us with first a blow up of a couple of the photos, then a sketch with pastels and finally we began tandem painting both signs in order to try and make them look as much the same as each other as possible. It was a stretch for both of us but a great project to work on together. We get a kick each time we drive up to the park to see our art work.
So if you are ever in the Albany area and what a great little adventure come check out one of our favorite places – John Boyd Thacher Park.
© 2017 Jelane A, Kennedy & Eileen A. McFerran