Looking southwest from Guilderland, Colonie, Albany, and Mt.
Rafinesque, overlooking Lansingburgh, a long dark and clearly
outlined, straight line of mountains are seen on the intermediate
horizon. Beyond this on the further horizon, are seen, if at
all, a hazy, greyish blue, outline of distinct separate humps
of mountains. It is said that the nearer mountains are called
the “Helderbergs” because they can be seen, relatively
more clearly, from the above named places, and the word means “clear” or “bright” in
The name “Helle” was also used, a long time ago,
and means “bright or clear” in German and very
early Dutch. Actually, the earliest name I’ve seen for
anywhere in these mountains is “Hellen”. In both
modern and very early Dutch, this word means “abrupt
declivity” or “sudden downslope”. It’s
on a mid 18th century map of Albany County, where it is written
only on that section of the mountains between the Bozen Kill,
and a little past the Swarte Kill.
This fits in with evidence from early Manor of Rensselaerwyck
leases and Church registers, that the names “Helderbergh” and “Hellebergh”,
and the lesser known, “Hellenbergh”, all originally
referred only to the escarpment between Rte. 85 and Rte. 156
and the elevations above it.
South of this, another hill is often named. This was considered
a separate “Bergh” or hill, as spelled out in a
1766 lease to Jacob Cooper (the Cooper Farm was located just
north of New Salem between the New Salem-Altamont Road and
the cliff); “ . . . All that parcel of land lying within
the said Manor . . . under a hill called Helleberg . . .” As
for the term, “Hellenbergh”: Might there not be
a possibility that this was an early alternate name that referred
to the cliff, and scree slope combined?
This cliff is the more noticeable than anything around when
one gets closer. For that matter, the sudden dip in the silhouette
of the hill at High Point, is also very noticeable, and marks
the place where the colonial road to Schoharie (Routes 146
and 156) starts up to cross the mountains. Was “Hellenbergh” derived
from this and applied to the whole hill and cliff? In any event,
all of this seems to have been considered as one geographic
feature by the Dutch and German Colonists of the area, and
so it should be by the environmentalists, in the effort to
create a public preserve here. The entire area of the Thomas
parcel, which includes High Point and more going back to Old
Stage Road, should be preserved.
The Helderbergh preservation effort needs be augmented by
a grass roots citizen activist, and advocacy group, like Save
the Pine Bush. A group that will seriously, and solidly oppose
development. A group that will advocate the inclusion of more
of the scree slopes and lower approaches to the escarpment
in the Park, or other open space plans, and also will urge
measures to preserve farmlands bordering it, with easements
and farmland trusts. This with the logical addition of the
entire Thomas parcel will do more for bird habitat, and rare
rock features, and caves, and open space, than any mere change
in designation, or managerial entity.
The Open Space Institute is selling 496 acre Heldebergh Preserve
to the State with great fanfare on Earth Day for addition to
Thatcher Park. (Please note, this land was already protected
from development and accessible to birds and people, the only
thing that is changing is ownership).
Too many of the beautiful woods and flower-strewn meadows
between Carrick and Ketchum Roads, next to this “new ” addition
to Thatcher Park have already been uglified in recent years
by the irresponsible, mindless lemming march of destructive
suburbia and exurbia. These uglified areas are not mentioned
in the Governor’s misstated press releases about the
addition to Thatcher Park. The press releases refer to a landscape
newly “protected forever for everyone”, and which
will newly “protect the park’s unique cliff and
forest ecosystem. . .” And again; “We are securing
habitat for resident and migratory birds, and wildlife. . .” .
It was already secured by the Open Space Institute!
Some people have thought this “new” addition to
have included the Jeff Thomas parcel which is under current
threat of development. Well! it didn’t, and nothing is
new. The Open Space institute had already preserved and was
protecting this addition. The Jeff Thomas parcel, with High
Point, adjoins this addition on it’s north side.
Why didn’t the State simply take the $750,000 they are
paying the Open Space Institute (OSI) for their already preserved
land and use it to buy the threatened Thomas parcel with it’s
jewel of High Point? High Point — that magnificent northernmost
anchoring bastion of the entire Helderbergh.
Purchase of High Point would have been a crowning achievement.
It’s a mystery to me as to why the State didn’t
buy from Thomas, when this land is so endangered.
It’s a mystery too, as to why the State failed to buy
High Point from Mr. Bob Whipple, when the State originally
planned to, around 1988, with money from the 1986 Environmental
Bond. I have a copy of the “Proposed Park” acquisition
map for this failed project. This project connected High Point
and everything between the escarpment and the Guilderland Town
line down to Thatcher Park. It also included an area projecting
into the Town of Knox, to take in “The World’s
End Sinkhole” and it’s interesting caves. The later
OSI acquisition of this latter feature, was a high point for
me. I was taken to High Point at the age of thirteen, with
some other lucky kids, by that renowned naturalist, and arch
conservationist A.T. Shorey. Here we learned, among many other
things, about Indians, copperheads, bandits, solution caves,
collapsed cavern roofs, depression contours, and Karst type
geology. I’ve been going back ever since. After acquiring
The Well At The World’s End, one of my favourite places,
I’ve been hoping that High Point would be the next OSI
It all belongs together. Between 1997, and 2002, The OSI
did an incredibly wonderful job of protecting this area, plus
than twice as much as the State had earmarked around 1988.
All through purchases, and easements. All except the Thomas
parcel, but OSI is still negotiating with Jeff Thomas, and
trying to buy all of his parcel for the rest of us, and the
even for the rest of the world. I can speak, personally. to
this aspect of the Helderbergh.
The Helderbergh Escarpment is known worldwide as the birthplace
of paleontology, and a major place of origin of the science
of geology. I was the outdoor activities planner for the Albany
International Center, in it’s early years. Prime natural
areas are always ideal for any country to show off to foreign
visitors. During those years, I met some graduate geology students
from places around the world. They couldn’t wait for
the trips to Thatcher Park, or High Point. I didn’t have
to tell them much about these places. They already knew more
about the Helderbergh than I did, or than most people around
here did. These foreign students already understood it’s
global geological, paleontological, and history of science
significance. Additionally, they appreciated and enjoyed the
special scenic qualities of the Helderbergh, once they were
able to visit the place, in person.