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November 9, 2012

Thacher Park offers a lot for a little

The Daily Star

---- — A unique and picturesque park awaits about 15 miles southwest of Albany.

I haven’t been there since I was in college, but I still have a fond memory of that place.

I was taking a geography course one summer in graduate school many years ago and we went on a field trip to Thacher State Park, which is found on the Helderberg Escarpment.

There are about six miles of the ancient limestone cliff face in the area. This is a fossil rich area that was formed millions of years ago, when it was under the water at the edge of a vast sea.

From the top of the cliffs, there are marvelous panoramic views of the Mohawk and Hudson valleys, as well as the Adirondacks and Vermont’s Green Mountains.

One of the park’s highlights is the Indian Ladder Trail. This historic trail was built by the Mohawk Indians more than 400 years ago. It was constructed as a trading route so the Indians could barter with the Dutch at Fort Orange, where the city of Albany is today.

The Indians’ lashed-together wooden ladders have been replaced by steel steps that descend about 60 feet. The trail is a relatively easy path that goes under Minelot Falls and passes an underground stream that exits from a small cave. This stream actually flows through the porous limestone rock from Lake Thompson about two miles away.

There are even a couple caves along the way that you can explore. If you visit the area, you might want to take a small flashlight and wander through their narrow passageways.

The Indian Ladder Trail is a little more than three miles round-trip and takes about two hours to

complete, depending how long you stay at some of the interpretive areas. At the end of the trail, a staircase takes you back to the top of the escarpment.

This is a very historic area. In 1777, a spy for the British took refuge, hiding from the settlers in one of the Helderberg Caves at Thacher Park. It is since known as Tory Cave.

There are about 12 miles of hiking trails at the park as well.

In 2004, 1,800 acres of the park and Thompson Lake were turned into a bird conservation area. Some 171 different species of birds can be seen there.

The Emma Thacher Nature Center is also at Lake Thompson, offering various, permanent displays and educational programs for the public.

I plan on visiting Thacher Park again next summer. It’s only about an hour away, just a short ways off Interstate-88 near Duanesburg on State Route 157.

If you decide to go, pack a picnic lunch and enjoy the day. The park is open from 8 a.m. until dark year-round, but the Indian Ladder Trail is only open from May 1-Nov. 15, weather-permitting.

There is a $6 vehicle fee, just like all the other state parks. They do run some interpretive programs and guided tours for $2 per person.

From what I remember, it’s well worth seeing. So put it on your things-to-do list for next year. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Rick Brockway writes a weekly outdoors column for The Daily Star. Email him at