Albany and the Helderberg Escarpment Thacher Park

Open Space Institute Protects 336 Acres on Helderberg Escarpment

Image Credit: Steve Aaron

ALBANY, NY - 7/18/2002 - Today the Open Space Institute announced the completion of two separate transactions to protect the Helderberg Escarpment in Albany County, New York. The transactions protect 336 acres in the vicinity of John Boyd Thacher State Park. The Open Space Institute (OSI) has been working in the Helderbergs since 1997, and to date has acquired 500 acres on and around the ridgeline. 

First, OSI purchased a conservation easement on the Ketcham Farm, a 318-acre parcel situated between John Boyd Thacher State Park and Thompson's Lake State Park. Characterized by scenic hay fields and woodlands visible from both sides of a major local highway, the easement will provide viewshed protection, while allowing the longstanding agricultural use of the property to continue. Subdivision and further development on the property will be prohibited, but existing residences and farm structures may be maintained. The Albany County Land Conservancy has agreed to assume the stewardship responsibility for the easement. 

The second transaction involves the donation of 18 acres of land to OSI from Albany County. This parcel is an abandoned quarry located on Carrick Road adjacent to other OSI-owned property. This parcel will be used as a parking lot and trailhead, due to its smooth bedrock surface and close proximity to a Town road. 

The purchase of the Ketcham Farm easement was made possible by the Lila Acheson & Dewitt Wallace Endowment Fund. In addition, two grants were provided by Selkirk Cogen Partners LLP. The first grant of $10,000 will cover the stewardship costs of the conservation easement, and the second grant of $5,000 will be used for a visitor information kiosk at the new parking lot. 

In a separate, third project, OSI is working with the Patroon Land Foundation, another landowner adjacent to Thompson's Lake State Park, on an exchange of easements. Patroon is a nonprofit organization that raises crops for distribution to food banks in the Capital District. Patroon will grant a public hiking trail easement across its land that will create a new link between the Park and trails on OSI land that provide access to the Escarpment. In return, OSI will grant an easement allowing Patroon's farm vehicles and equipment to use an old woods road on OSI property, in order to dramatically shorten the travel distance to its crop fields. 

The dramatic Helderberg Escarpment is the premier geographic feature of the Capital District. A north-south range of limestone ridges and cliffs, it is one of the most prominent natural features in the region. “The protection of the Helderberg Escarpment has been a top priority for the Open Space Institute for several years” said Joe Martens, president of OSI. “We are glad to be able to add another 336 acres to the list of protected lands here, and we thank our partners in this project at Selkirk Cogen, Albany County, and the Albany County Land Conservancy. We also salute Betty Ketcham for her commitment to conserving her family's property.” 

Geologically, the Escarpment is one of New York's most important natural features. Its exposed cliffs and world-renowned fossil formations reveal a half-billion years of geological history, and have lured prominent geologists and paleontologists for more than a century. In fact, this region is the birthplace of American paleontology. Many fossils of worldwide distribution were first discovered here, and provide the basis for a correlation of geologic events around the world. 

Raymond H. Torrey wrote in 1935 in Scenic and Historic America, a quarterly journal of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, that the Helderbergs were “one of the most beautiful and unusual scenic features of New York State, and one of the most interesting disclosures of ancient and richly fossil-bearing formation in the world, widely known among geologists and paleontologists, is preserved for the enjoyment of all who appreciate its varied charms, in John Boyd Thacher Park, on the Helderberg Escarpment, in Albany County, fifteen miles west of the capital.” That description holds true today. 

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