Photographer Dustin Lanterman’s Love Affair with the Saratoga Spa State Park

Chances are, if you’re not still working from home, your morning commute has returned to culminating at some nondescript Capital Region office building. If you’re lucky, maybe there’s a tree or two outside of your window—maybe even a flower arrangement.

Prepare yourself for a little commuter envy: Dustin Lanterman’s drive into work every morning takes him down the iconic Avenue of the Pines, through the magnificent Saratoga Spa State Park, and ends at the historic Saratoga Bottling Plant, which is home to the Saratoga Automobile Museum and its collection of rare and vintage cars. It’s also where Lanterman serves as communications director, facilities manager and volunteer coordinator (he’s also on the board of the nonprofit Friends of the Spa State Park).

Getting paid to track down, write about and promote collections of gorgeous rides is just one of the perks of Lanterman’s job. Another one is his surroundings. “The first time I drove down the Avenue of the Pines,” he says, “I was speechless.” He’s now taken that tree-lined, road-of-a-thousand-selfies drive nearly every day since January 2020—and in his opinion, its splendor hasn’t diminished one bit. “I grew up around Newtown Battlefield and Watkins Glen state parks, which are two incredible parks, but the Spa Park has that certain something,” he says. “There’s just something magical about it.”

You can thank New York State’s foresight, more than a century ago, for preserving that magic for millions of future visitors, Lanterman included. The nearly-2,500 acre parcel of land that now comprises the Spa State Park was officially set aside by the State in 1909 to protect it from overzealous businessmen, who were exploiting the park’s mineral springs for their carbonic acid gas and ruining the land around them in the process. A little less than 30 years later in 1935, the park saw the official opening of the Saratoga Spa, a wellness retreat built on its grounds as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. The spa peaked in popularity in the 1930s and ’40s, but as medical advances were made and mineral water treatments fell by the wayside, the land around it was eventually transformed into a state park in 1962.

The construction of the Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) on the Spa Park’s grounds four years later gave it a sensational second act, driving hordes of concert-goers to it, right up until present day. Besides the SPAC amphitheater and its sprawling lawn, the park also boasts two golf courses, two museums (including the auto museum), two public pools, a theater, hotel, spa, coffee shop, the area’s only public clay tennis courts…the list goes on and on. Some entire cities don’t even have as much cultural and recreational opportunities within their limits, let alone inside a single park.

But as Spa Park–goers know, all of its entertaining attractions and historic buildings are only half of what makes it so majestic. The other half is the park’s natural beauty—its springs, forest, creek, walkable trails, picnic-able green spaces—that enhances the striking architecture that is enveloped by it. It’s that one-two punch—what SPAC President and CEO Elizabeth Sobol describes as the “confluence of manmade and natural beauty”—that makes the Spa Park so special and photogenic, especially for Lanterman. “It’s endlessly interesting,” he says, crediting the park’s “architecture, pines, springs and the way the light and shadows play around the buildings and trails.” Don’t you wish you worked there, too? 

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