In 2009 the city of Albany bought 27 acres of former farmland on the south side of East Thornton Lake for $2.25 million. There once was the thought of building a parking lot and paths so people could enjoy the place as the East Thornton Lake Natural Area. But that prospect has retreated into the indefinite future now.
The area lies just east of North Albany Road. On a bike ride the other day, I stopped at a little parking apron off the street, apparently put there during this year’s road reconstruction as an eventual public entrance to the natural area. I wondered what if anything had happened to plans for doing something with the land. By email, Albany Parks and Recreation Director Ed Hodney gave me an update.
“The ETLNA project (first phase improvements) is postponed indefinitely,” he wrote. “While money is available for planning, design and initial construction, I recommended to the Council last year that we delay construction due to insufficient operating funds for a new park. We’ll reconsider this action if and when the revenue picture improves. Meanwhile, I will be proceeding with the planning and design phase this year in preparation for the construction phase, pending an improvement in operating funds.”
So, can people explore the acreage now, without benefit of improvements except for that driveway? “It is open for wandering,” was the way Hodney put it.
The area had been a focus of a hot land-use battle during the last decade. Neighbors fought plans for a lakeside subdivision there, and eventually the council ended the fight by agreeing to buy the land from its Salem owner. One million dollars of the purchase price came from Albany’s Pepsi settlement stash, $250,000 from park reserves, $610,000 from a combination of donations and a $558,926 state grant, and $390,000 in city parks development fee revenue.
The state grant, by the way, obligated the city to develop the land for recreation by 2014, according to a story I wrote in December 2011. Evidently that condition has been set aside or otherwise nullified. You might understand the parks director’s reluctance to build another park and maintain it with the money he has. The current parks maintenance budget allows for a mere 8.5 full-time-equivalent positions to look after 895 acres of park land all over town, not to mention an estimated 13,000 trees. (hh)