View of Albany from Thacher

The Helderberg Escarpment

Image Credit: Brett Cole

The lure of a landscape

Ten miles west of Albany, rugged limestone cliffs rise more than 1,100 feet over the Hudson and Mohawk Valleys. This escarpment provides a spectacular panorama of nearby mountain ranges, the Adirondacks, Taconics, Berkshires and Greens, surrounding the cities and communities of New York’s Capital Region.

Known as the Helderbergs, the escarpment’s exposed limestone cliffs are rich in fossils, chronicling a half-billion years of geological history that have intrigued paleontologists and geologists from around the world for decades.

Steeped in history

The conservation centerpiece of the Helderberg Escarpment is John Boyd Thacher State Park, named for a former mayor of Albany who in 1903 began buying land in the Helderbergs to protect it from development.

Recognizing the importance of this singular landscape, we began identifying and acquiring key parcels along the escarpment in 1996 and conveying them to New York State as additions to Thacher Park. Through this work, over a period of 10 years, we have more than doubled the size of the park.

Regionally, our work includes:

  • Acquiring a conservation easement on the 320-acre Indian Ladder Farms, a favorite fall destination for apple picking, cider donuts, cider and now, craft beer and hard cider
  • Acquiring a conservation easement on the 318-acre Ketcham Farm, protecting a key link between Thacher and Thompson Lake State Parks 
  • Extending the Long Path, a 357-mile path that extends from the George Washington Bridge to the Capital District, for world-class recreation
  • On the northern edge of the Hudson River Valley, surrounding New York State’s capital city of Albany, the Capital District is a region steeped in layers of history and geography. Loosely defined by the lands of Albany, Rensselaer, Schenectady, and Saratoga counties, the Capital District offers recreational opportunities in places like John Boyd Thacher State Park.
  • Cliffs, fossils, and waterfalls overhang the Indian Ladder Trail at Thacher State Park. The history of the park dates back around 400 years to a time when the trail now known as the Indian Ladder Trail was used by the Mohawk Iroquois Indians to reach the trading post run by Henry Hudson. It was here that in 1777, at a spot known as Tory Cave, Jacob Salsbury found refuge from settlers during the Burgoyne Invasion.
  • Dr. Milford Becker, cherished his family property on the Bozen Kill and hoped the land would one day be preserved. Now the property along with 27 neighboring acres will create the new 214-acre Bozen Kill Preserve.

Gateway to Park Exploration

In 2015, we launched a campaign to raise $1 million in private funds for the new Thacher Park Center to create interpretive exhibits, interactive educational features and capture the special connection between the park and its devoted visitors. The Center, imagined as the place to showcase all there is to see, do and learn at John Boyd Thacher State Park, opened in 2017.

Built at the trailhead of the iconic and popular Indian Ladder Trail, the Center includes educational exhibits highlighting the geological and human history of the park, a multipurpose gathering space, and an outdoor patio.

What You Can Do

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