Public sounds off on Saratoga Spa State Park plan
By DREW KERR
Updated: Thursday, September 17, 2009 10:51 PM EDT
SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Saratoga Spa State Park is many things to many people — home to a venue for the performing arts, a place to strap on some snowshoes or cross-country skis or a retreat where mineral waters calm the soul.
Such diversity is both a blessing and a challenge for administrators at the 2,800-acre park, who must strike a balance between preserving the park’s delicate ecosystem and opening the historic grounds to throngs of visitors each year.
To help, officials recently put together a 144-page master plan — in part built on suggestions culled from the public — that spells out exactly how those dual purposes can be achieved in the coming years.
On Thursday night at the Gideon Putnam Hotel, members of the public had their first chance to vocally sound off on what the document envisioned for the park, built up under President Franklin D. Roosevelt in the 1920s and ’30s as a health spa centered around the mineral springs that pepper the grounds.
Around two dozen people showed at the hotel, located within the park, and most had generally favorable opinions of the ambitions that have been laid out.
That is, except for the dog park.
The plan, introduced about three weeks ago by officials with the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation & Historic Preservation, calls for an area off Crescent Street to be fenced in for use by dog owners — a change for those who now normally let their pets roam free.
"If you get 10, 15, 20 dogs into the little area that they’re talking about it’s going to be a mess," said Michael James, who takes his 10-week-old black lab to the park to socialize. "I just don’t get how they think they’re going to fit everyone in there."
The suggestion came about because officials want to protect nearby populations of the endangered Karner Blue Butterfly that live in the area.
But many dog owners said they’d never seen the butterfly there despite years of taking their dogs to the site, and that their animals are under control regardless.
"This whole thing is predicated on some supposition that the butterflies are declining because of the dogs, but I just don’t think that’s true," said Dales Ordes, a Ballston Spa resident who has visited the park with three different dogs over the last 20 years.
Alane Ball Chinian, the regional director for the park’s office, said a compromise on the issue could likely be found before the plan is ultimately adopted.
"It’s not hard. We just have to have the habitat areas remain the habitat areas, that’s all," she said after the hour-long public hearing finished.
Besides the angst over the dog park proposal, Chinian said the plan has otherwise warmly received. Few comments have been received, but Chinian said that was likely an indication that people agreed with most of the ideas put forward.
"No news is good news," she said.
There are around 30 priorities officials would like to see implemented as money becomes available, though officials cautioned some may take time to implement given the state’s current financial constraints.
Among the ideas laid out in the master plan are creating a new visitor’s center and mineral water museum at the Lincoln Bathhouse on South Broadway, where State Parks Police are now headquartered, expanding the trail network, improving the tennis courts and creating a nine-hole Frisbee golf course near the Peerless Pool.
Beyond the capital improvements that have been outlined, officials say the plan is going to serve as a guide map for environmental conservation in the years to come.
Erosion control along Geyser Creek, an expansion of reduced mowing areas, the creation of a bird conservation area and the implementation of an invasive species plan are among the ideas for improving the park’s habitat.
Saratoga Spa State Park was among 11 of the state’s 213 parks chosen last year to create a master plan. This is the first time such a document has been produced for the Saratoga Springs park.
Comments can be submitted in writing through Oct. 9 to be considered before the plan’s final adoption.