The new and (we think) improved Empire State Winter Games are ours now, so please support them by going out to see the torch run Thursday and Friday, the opening ceremonies Friday evening, the Festival of the Games Saturday evening and the exciting winter sports themselves Friday through Sunday.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has been invited to the games, and although the busy governor's schedule is beyond us, there's reason to say he ought to be here to speak at the games' opening ceremonies. So far, it seems like a fantastic example of state "right-sizing," as he and others call it, working.
Granted, it was Gov. David Paterson, not Cuomo, who pulled the plug on the Empire State Games (summer and winter) in November, but both men shared that budget-cutting agenda. New York just can't afford to do as much as it used to, but some programs the state drops can be saved if local agencies think they're worthwhile and are willing and able to take over.
The winter version of the Empire State Games is now run by local municipalities, tourism professionals and a belt-tightened state Olympic Regional Development Authority. Those who pay for it are, instead of all New Yorkers, the athletes themselves (through new entry fees), local government bodies and private sponsors.
That's fair. This event obviously means more to the Lake Placid area than to the rest of the state: both to local businesses and to local athletes, some of whom have used it as a springboard to becoming Olympians. Plus, people here know how to put it on; they've been closely involved in it for three decades. Frankly, local organizers have made the process look easy (although we suspect it isn't).
A similar case of increased local responsibility happened last year in the Moose River Plains: Hamilton County and the towns of Inlet and Indian Lake stepped in to keep this car-camping corridor open after the state Department of Environmental Conservation closed the roads, saying it couldn't afford to maintain them anymore. The DEC had to cut somewhere, but these towns had seasonal economies that relied on Plains visitors. The increased home rule that resulted should happen more often, perhaps with some of the parks, campgrounds and golf courses the state owns and runs. If local taxpayers take these over but eventually decide they aren't worth their tax dollars, they will be free to drop them.
The same will go for the Empire State Winter Games, although it's uncomfortable to think of their vulnerability amid the happy flush of their opening. Organizers say they'll gauge success on the overall vibe the games leave in their wake, especially whether sports organizers are happy and local residents attend and show support. We are optimistic that this experiment will be a resounding success, a blue-chip investment, but that depends, in part, on all of us.
So we urge you to show up and show you care about winter sports, about the thrill and importance of outdoor activity amid brisk, clean mountain air. As the indisputable winter sports capital of the Empire State, let's spread the good word by being wonderful hosts and cheerleaders.
For a schedule of events, see this paper's sports section or www.empirestatewintergames.com.