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Lake Taghkanic State Park spruces up for season

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GALLATIN–As Lake Taghkanic State Park’s May 14 opening day approaches, the park staff is rushing to prepare for an onslaught of summer visitors. They’ve been working ever since the park closed last fall, to repair and renew the park and its facilities for the coming year.

“The off-season is dedicated to prepping the park for the main season,” said Christopher Rickard, the park’s assistant manager. “There’s so much to do during that time, that I have never noticed a lull in activity,” he said. “You’re rushing to beat the clock. It’s such a big place, nature will always throw you a curve ball,” Mr. Rickard said. One such curve was the December 2008 ice storm, which caused tree damage that took two years to clean up.

Working daily from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m., the nine-person staff  has a crew cutting down trees around all power lines to prevent the power outages like the ones last summer, when fallen trees knocked down lines, disabling all the park’s plumbing systems. Trees were also cut to improve views. Buildings were painted inside and out, and some cabins and cottages, most of which were built during the 1920s and ’30s and retain a retro charm, got makeovers, with new kitchens, floors and furniture. Worn out windows and doors, hand rails and steps were replaced or rebuilt. The rental paddle boats, kayaks, rowboats and oars that take a beating during the summer also need plenty of repair work during the off season.

Tami Karlsson, who works on painting and maintenance in the winter and cleaning in the summer, has worked in every building. Last week she was hard at work preparing cabins. “I love it,” she said, but admitted that “this is kind of a high-stress time.”

In addition to his role as a manager, Mr. Rickard does some jobs himself, like making the new trail and campsite markers now installed across the park. And he’s out on the lake daily in a motorboat in early spring, good weather and bad, to prevent Canada geese from taking up residence.

Volunteers also play an important role in the upkeep of the park. A snowmobile club from Rhinebeck grooms the park’s eight miles of trails, freeing up considerable resources for other projects; Boy Scouts and volunteer firefighters work on different projects; Eagle Scout candidates have built bridges for hiking trails and benches.

A number of new picnic tables, manufactured in Slingerlands and assembled by the staff over the winter, now dot the landscape. The state funded the repaving of the park roads, making them so smooth that they now require speed bumps. Last week, staff members rushed to fill in the shoulders of the new roads, which are as much as a foot higher that the old roads in places, to prevent campers from tripping.

A statewide green initiative ensures that the park is kept up without the use of pesticides, chemical fertilizers or toxic cleaning chemicals. New water-conserving toilets have been installed, and lawns will be mowed slightly less often to lower the park’s carbon footprint. Paper is used less and is now printed on both sides.

A number of improvements made in 2008 also help enhance the park, including two playgrounds, and a concrete deck and arbor off the main office and concession building, which also received a major renovation last year.

Even though the job of assistant park manager is one that does not come with a summer vacation, Mr. Rickard, who grew up fishing in Montauk and camping in the Adirondacks and remembers camping at Lake Taghkanic at age two, says it’s a dream job. He graduated from SUNY Syracuse with a degree in environmental science and worked at Fahnstock State Park before coming here.

Mr. Rickard calls the park a “jewel” and says it is recognized as a flagship park for this area in the state’s park system. He also says the park is fortunate compared to some other parks, because the revenue it generates from the rental of cabins and boats help support the operation. Despite the big cuts at other parks, the only one the public will likely notice here involve swimming.

Once the park opens for swimming on Memorial Day, it will be swimming on weekends only until after May 29, and the East Beach has been closed. July 4th fireworks have not been scheduled because funding has not been found. If money materializes, it might still happen, he said.

Another thing Mr. Rickard likes about his job is the people he works with. “They are a wonderful staff, where everyone works well together and cares about the park and takes a personal pride in the place,” he said. And he described the people who come to the lake as “a mellow, local, family crowd.”

There’s also the fringe benefit of the wildlife: the raven nesting in the water tower, the litter of fox cubs in a small cave, the loon, the deer, wild turkeys, osprey, eagles, beavers and flying squirrels.

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