Living a short distance from this amazing area, I often make trips to this Park. Even as a child, I was fascinated by the stories of settlers hiding from insurgents and indians on the ladder trail and in the caves and camping there with my parents and finding fossils everywhere.
"Cliffs Higher Than the Palisades” was just one of the superlatives used to describe John Boyd Thacher StatePark after its acquisition in 1914. It was also extolled as a paradise for geologists and acclaimed for its precipitous cliffs and magnificent prospects. Enthusiasts declared its scenery unsurpassed, even in the Adirondacks. Thacher Park is located in the Helderbergs, an east-west mountain range between the Adirondacks and the Catskills. Although the Helderbergs extend more than 300 miles, their most dramatic manifestation is the 3-mile-long, 1200 foot-high limestone escarpment southwest of Albany that forms the core of the park.
The park has a long association with human activity. Native American trails from the Mohawk and Hudson Valleys traversed the escarpment leading to settlements in the Schoharie Valley, while the secluded caves under the cliffs provided refuge for loyalists during the Revolution. Permanent European settlement began after the war, when Stephen van Rensselaer III opened this remote corner of Rensselaerswyck to tenants, and by the 1790s farms
were established throughout the Helderbergs. In 1821 a steep road was cut along the cliff face; however, this treacherous approach did little to diminish the region’s isolation. A combination of poor soil and near feudal leaseholds sparked turbulence after van Rensselaer’s death in 1839, as heirs demanded long-overdue rents. The ensuing “Anti-Rent Wars” engendered years of instability.
Early visitors were drawn to the Helderbergs by scientific interests. In the 1830s, geologists began studying the region’s superb exposures of upper Silurian and Devonian strata and its extraordinary collection of marine fossils. By the late nineteenth century, the Helderbergs were attracting tourists, and boarding houses, hotels, and campgrounds developed around the area.
In 1906 John Boyd and Emma Treadwell Thacher began acquiring land along the escarpment to protect it from development. J.B. Thacher (1847-1909), a well-known politician, served as a state senator and as mayor of Albany. By 1909, when Thacher died, the couple owned numerous ridge-top parcels. Emma Thacher (1850-1927) later donated 350 acres to New York State for public parkland. In 1914 the legislature delegated management to the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society (ASHPS), formed in 1895 to protect scenic and historic sites. The society enthused that “the lover of nature, the geologist, the seeker for inspiration can here make interesting explorations of the wonders of nature.
The upper trail is accessible to the handicapped, but the Indian Ladder can only be accessed by stairs at each end of the trail. Take a picnic....take the kids but keep a firm grip on them...it's a long way down and many have foolishly gone over the edges and perished