Proposed $30M project seen as path to year-round tourism
By Paul Post
State and public officials are touting a proposed $30 million North Creek Ski Bowl project as the capstone of a decades-long effort to make this central Adirondacks community a year-round tourist destination.
The main Gore Mountain ski area, operated by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, hosted 217,000 guests last winter. Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget calls for a full-service hiking center, scenic chairlift rides and a unique rail-zipline ride centered around a new ski bowl base lodge, designed to attract summer and shoulder season visitors.
“It’s going to have a significant impact,” local attorney and former Johnsburg Supervisor Sterling Goodspeed said. “It’s going to be the next step in creating a four-season economy here in the Adirondacks. Everybody has hoped there would be one grand solution and that hasn’t been the case. It’s been a journey of several different chapters. But it certainly appears that this is a conclusive chapter in that journey.”
The historic Ski Bowl, which first welcomed skiers arriving by train from Schenectady in March 1934, is owned by the Town of Johnsburg and operated by ORDA under a 20-year agreement that expires in 2037. ORDA has spent about $12 million over the past 15 years on trails, chairlifts and snowmaking to connect the bowl and Gore.
The project, called Ski Bowl Village, is within walking distance of North Creek’s village center, negating environmental concerns that often delay or prohibit economic development in the 6-million acre Adirondack Park.
It already has Adirondack Park Agency approval and is viewed favorably by environmental and business interests alike.
“The project site is located on private lands classified as ‘hamlet’ under the Adirondack Park Land Use and Development Plan,” said Keith McKeever, APA public information officer. “Hamlet Areas are the designated growth centers within the park where it is most appropriate and desirable for higher intensity mixed-use development.” He said it will help promote and bolster commercial activity and help add more room availability during busy holiday and weekends.
Adirondack Council spokesman John Sheehan said, “We are generally happier when development happens close to an existing community because we want to help Adirondack hamlets become complete, walkable and sustainable, rather than places you have to get in your car to get somewhere. Compact developed areas are cheaper to manage and cost taxpayers less including millions of dollars saved on water and sewer lines.”
The project will connect to existing drinking water and wastewater infrastructure, McKeever said.
“All the heavy lifting is done,” said ORDA President Mike Pratt, who previously managed Gore Mountain. The only approvals still needed are things such as a town building permit or potentially a stormwater management permit from the state Department of Environmental Conservation. It’s hoped that work will begin this spring or summer, with completion slated for 2023 although a request for proposals seeking a qualified contractor hasn’t been issued yet, he said.
In addition to construction work, the project is expected to create 16 full-time jobs.
“Lake George and the surrounding southern Adirondacks welcome millions of warm-weather visitors each year,” Pratt said. “The town of Johnsburg would benefit from seeing a larger portion of those tourists. We feel it’s going to be a must-see destination.”
APA approved the project in 2008, and other capital projects kept putting the Ski Bowl Village on hold. Most recently, for example, ORDA spent $125 million improving its 1932 and 1980 Winter Olympic venues in anticipation of the 2023 World University Games next January in Lake Placid and at Gore and other North Country venues. More than 1,600 athletes from over 50 nations are expected.
The proposed Ski Bowl’s 18,300-square-foot base lodge will have a restaurant, tavern and two levels of patios affording scenic views. The Ski Bowl is already home to a professionally designed mountain biking trail system, and would become a full-service hiking center as well. But the rail-zipline would be a special Ski Bowl feature, providing users an uphill tripon an elevated zig-zag ride before speeding down on a zipline.
North Creek Business Alliance President Anna Bowers said, “We live in such a special location where we have the mountains, the river, hiking, rafting. Something that’s going to open year-round really aligns with our vision and values of promoting the community and making it a viable four-season economy.”
Johnsburg Supervisor Andrea Hogan said she believes Ski Bowl Village will trigger an economic boom in North Creek by spurring other businesses such as restaurants and retail shops to locate there. “We’re excited about the project, but we’re more excited about the town and how we’re really pulling together a vision for it,” she said.
Some efforts to promote local tourism, such as the former Saratoga & North Creek Railway, didn’t provide the stimulus officials hoped for.
Hogan said the Ski Bowl is different.
“This is a significant investment by the state in our community,” she said. “The tourist train was a privately-run operation. This is public money being put in support of economic development in Warren County as opposed to a private entity saying they were going to do something, and unfortunately just weren’t able to. There were so many factors that went into the railway’s failure, but none of them were lack of enthusiasm on the part of the community. We’ll take this and run with it.”
Goodspeed was a driving force behind creation of a museum and restoration of the historic North Creek depot where Theodore Roosevelt, summoned from Mount Marcy, boarded a train bound for Buffalo to become president in September 1901.
He said the Ski Bowl is another path for growth. “It’s not a change to the environment, it’s an enhancement, a continuation of an historic use,” he said. “ It’s going to be an attraction that brings thousands of people here, creating a strong market for local businesses that are now a few hundred feet away from a $30 million development.”