TUPPER LAKE, N.Y. (NEWS10) – Gore Mountain in North Creek; Whiteface in Lake Placid; and Belleayre Mountain Ski Center in Highmount, in central New York’s Ulster County. These three ski resorts all have one thing in common; all are operated by the New York State Olympic Regional Development Authority.
And in Tupper Lake, residents are signing their names to an effort to add a fourth mountain to the organization’s control.
Tupper Lake resident Rick Donah started a change.org petition last week asking for state government to turn their attention toward the Big Tupper Ski Resort, which has been out of operation since 2016. In that time, the petition has received nearly 5,800 signatures as of Tuesday morning.
“I’m not doing this for reasons other than that I love skiing and Big Tupper is a great experience,” said Donah in a phone call Monday.
Donah once served as volunteer coordinator for ARISE, a donation-run volunteer group that operated the mountain from 2010 to 2016. Funds became lacking, and the last fundraiser for the mountain was in 2018. The mountain was first opened in 1961.
Now, after a development project on the mountain failed, the county is set to foreclose on the ski resort, leaving only so long a window to ask for the state to get involved.
The proof is in the spending
The call for ORDA to step in and run the mountain is based in successes at those other resorts, as well as the other Olympic venues they run, which include a sports complex and Nordic center at Mt. Van Hoevenberg.
Reports from the organization show strong revenue and visitor numbers from 2016 to 2018 (the most recent year with currently published data). From 2017-18, a reported $34,485,291 in revenue was reported from ORDA-operated venues.
That revenue is the result of money spent by the state to get things running. The fact that the spending has favored some parts of the Adirondacks over others has not been lost on Donah.
“What’s changed about this up here is when there seems to be a need for investment in the Lake Placid area, it happens really quick,” he said. “When it happens in other places, it’s ‘Let’s wait and see.’ There’s a difference between Lake Placid and the rest of the Adirondack Park.”
The attention to the village isn’t without merit, Donah acknowledged. Lake Placid has been the site of the Winter Olympics in both 1932 and 1980. But he said the attention paid there could have paid even bigger dividends in places like Tupper Lake.
An example raised was the case of Midway Lodge, a mid-station lodge on Whiteface Mountain which burned down last November. Not long after the fire, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced plans to spend $2.3 million on rebuilding the structure, a plan which is set for this year.
“That money could impact Big Tupper a bunch.”
‘An economy that’s only four months long’
Tupper Lake has a population of 3,667, according to the 2010 census. Donah describes the village as a drive-through location for much of the year.
“Nobody wants to invest in an economy that’s only four months long.”
He said there have been hotel projects proposed for the village in recent years that have been abandoned because of the lack of traffic outside those summer months.
“Once the schools start back up and the leaves fall off the trees, you turn it all right off and the economic activity drops by 75 percent.”
That winter slowdown has been compounded by another state effort: The Empire State Rail Trail.
A central vein for snowmobiling in the Tupper Lake area uses a stretch of old rail corridor which the state has proposed to remove in order to create part of a rail trail project aimed to span 750 miles from New York City to Canada. The project, announced in 2017, has put use of that rail corridor to a standstill as Tupper Lake waits for the state to decide whether to use it.
History on the slopes
Donah is a local, with family roots tracing back 80 years; longer than the resort itself.
When Big Tupper opened in 1961, it quickly became a point of contact and travel with many other parts of the North Country, including St. Lawrence County.
That county has four colleges; SUNY Potsdam, Clarkson University, SUNY Canton and St. Lawrence University. Students from all four would come and ski at Big Tupper.
The mountain closed under its original owners in 1999, and sat dormant for a decade until ARISE stepped in.
“They got the lifts set up and they tried and tried,” Donah said.
The proposed development of the Adirondack Club & Resort, a housing and sport project that was set to revitalize the site, became a lost cause in 2018.
“Basically, nothing has happened,” Donah said about efforts to reopen the mountain. “The project is half-dead.”
“It’s a bust financially, there’s all kinds of debts.”
Getting the message across
Communicating the demand for state help directly to Gov. Cuomo is the petition’s end goal.
Donah has already spoken to the Governor about the resort site once, last Sunday in Saranac Lake. He told the Governor why he thought ORDA should consider stepping in at Big Tupper, and that the Governor appeared open to looking further into the situation.
“He’s done more for the Adirondacks than any governor has.”
Since then, support has come from the community, including the Lake Placid mayor, as well as endorsements from several newspapers.
“I don’t see our local politicians doing much,” Donah said. “They haven’t stepped up at this stage, because it’s controversial.”
Tupper Lake is a different situation from Glens Falls, which Donah pointed out has West Mountain Ski Resort as just one of many economic drivers that run through different parts of the year.
“There’s no reason for Tupper, this beautiful ski area, to just sit because the state doesn’t want to politically ruffle some feathers in Malone or Glens Falls or Albany,” Donah said, referring to the difference in economic climate across those areas.
“At the end of the day, this issue is about economic justice. Big Tupper has no future as a private entity.”
Once the goal has been reached, the petition will be sent to the office of Gov. Cuomo.
“If he wants something to go, he can make it happen.”
Donah is also planning a community rally calling for ORDA support sometime in the next two weeks.
He said that if ORDA were to step in and start operation of Big Tupper, he would consider getting involved, but now has a good job working for the state as a health records administrator.
No matter where his direct footprint begins or ends, Donah emphasized the potential in the 59-year-old ski resort.
“It’s the best mountain around, it has the best views of the lake and it looks over to St. Lawrence County,” he said. “Growing up here seeing it closed is heartbreaking to us.”
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