SARANAC LAKE - Natalie Leduc, a longtime supporter of Mount Pisgah Ski Center, says there's one thing that separates Matt Cook from the previous managers of the village-owned ski area.
"He's a skier," she said. "We've had this area open for years, and we've had wonderful help, but we've never had a skier."
Leduc said she believes Cook has the background and the interest to carry out a plan to expand Mount Pisgah from a small downhill ski center into a year-round recreational facility for residents and visitors.
Mount Pisgah Manager Matt Cook, standing in the middle of the ski slope, wants to create a year-round recreational trail system at the village-run mountain.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
The yellow-bordered area in this aerial photo taken in the spring is the 97-acre Mount Pisgah Recreation Area, owned by the Village of Saranac Lake. The cleared area in the middle is the ski slope (note the patches of snow) while the forested land on each side of the ski area (green) is currently unused.
(Graphic by the village of Saranac Lake, with green shading added by Corey Kingsbury, Enterprise)
This is a section of old trail in the woods to the east of the Mount Pisgah ski slope. It could be used as part of a proposed recreational trail network at the village-run mountain.
(Enterprise photo — Chris Knight)
"To have somebody who knows what the potential is there is terrific," she said.
The village hired Cook to manage Mount Pisgah last fall. He comes to the position after seven years of coaching nordic athletes for the New York Ski Educational Foundation, the last three years as the program's director.
Cook called Mount Pisgah "a diamond in the rough" and said the 97-acre property has a lot of potential. The ski area itself only occupies about 20 acres.
"When you look at the map of the property, so little of it is used, even in the wintertime," he said. "It's underutilized and it has so much potential."
Cook wants to develop a recreational trail network on the property for cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, mountain biking, walking and running. He'd also like to introduce ski jumping to the mountain - he taught it for NYSEF - and build a paved trail that the elderly or disabled could use in the summer months.
"My vision is to watch Mount Pisgah grow into a year-round, multi-use facility that promotes a healthy, active lifestyle," Cook said.
As a coach in nordic combined, which includes ski jumping and cross-country skiing, Cook said he visited different venues around the world and saw the benefits of offering year-round recreational opportunities to the public.
The acreage that Cook would like to use for the trail system at Pisgah is located on the east and west sides of the ski slope. It starts out as rolling terrain near the base of the mountain and eventually gives way to steeper slopes closer to the summit. Switchbacks would have to be cut to reach the top of Pisgah, where a connection would be made to the opposite side of the mountain.
While most of the property is forested, Cook said laying out a trail network through the trees would not be difficult and noted there are already a few sections of old trail on the property. The trail system would also access an area near Pisgah's summit that has scenic views of the surrounding mountains.
Cook worked for four years as a member of the Adirondack Mountain Club's professional trail crew, so he has trail-building experience. But he thinks a trail system at Pisgah should be professionally developed.
"It would be in our best interest to bring in a company that designs trails to maximize the terrain we have and to make sure it's safe to use," he said.
Cook believes the trail network would complement, not create competition for, the nearby Dewey Mountain Cross-Country Ski Center, which is owned by the town of Harrietstown.
He added that Mount Pisgah has the infrastructure and capacity to handle more use, including a large parking lot, a ski lodge, lights and snowmaking.
Asked how much the village would have to invest in the project, Cook said much of the work will have to be done over time by interested volunteers and groups like the Friends of Mount Pisgah.
"It has to be community based," he said. "Something like this can't simply fall on the shoulders of the village. Any big project like this takes a lot of small steps."
Leduc thinks the community will support the plan.
"It may not get done all in one season, but I believe there is enough help," she said. "I think it's a great idea because this mountain, while it's fabulous, is underutilized."
Village Mayor Tom Michael said expanding recreational opportunities at Mount Pisgah is something the village has debated for years.
"A lot of what Matt is talking about have been goals of mine and goals of this board and previous boards," he said. "If we have an opportunity to expand uses and make it a year-round recreational facility, we want to take that opportunity."
Michael said the village's parks and recreational facilities have suffered because they haven't had a person whose only responsibility is to manage them. Much of the work has been done by Department of Public Works crews when they have the time, he said.
"By hiring Matt at Mount Pisgah, we took a step in the direction of running that facility in a professional manner," Michael said. "I'm confident he can run the facility for mountain biking and skiing so it would not be an additional cost to the village. He would have to be a year-round employee, but we already have him on staff for most of the year."
While the full details of the proposal still have to be put on paper, Cook delivered an informal presentation to the village board Monday night. The plan to diversify recreational opportunities at Mount Pisgah has been included in an application the board approved for $600,000 in grant funding from the state Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.
Most of the grant money, approximately $400,000, is targeted for a new T-bar lift for the ski area. The grant carries a 25 percent match which could be made up by donations the Friends of Mount Pisgah are collecting for the project. More than $20,000 has been raised so far.
Contact Chris Knight at (518) 891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.