Saranac Lake Trustee Jeff Branch raised a worthy topic for debate last week when he said the village should seriously look at no longer running a Mount Pisgah Ski Center. We're not as eager as he is for the village to offload this facility, but if village officials can work out an arrangement that would keep Pisgah running as well or better, and also reduce the village's annual deficit of $50,000 to $75,000, then go for it.
Pisgah's current deficit averages little more than $10 per person per year, and generations of Saranac Lakers have consistently paid that cost. The ski area has been considered worth it.
It's also getting a new lift and new trails, a major investment thanks to local fundraising and a $600,000 state grant, which it won competitively based on the project's merit. Pisgah's value is on the upswing, and the new trails aren't very leasable because they don't generate revenue, so this doesn't seem like the time for a fire sale.
A young local skier races at Mount Pisgah in Saranac Lake on Feb. 15.
(Enterprise file photo — Lou Reuter)
Also, does any Adirondack alpine ski area break even on its own? Over the years, most small hills have closed and become overgrown. If the village offloads Pisgah, there's a good chance that within a few years it will join the ranks of Fawn Ridge, Jenkins, Whitney and Paleface.
On the other hand, Dewey Mountain Recreation Center is also an excellent public facility, yet it is run wonderfully by a local business, Adirondack Lakes and Trails Outfitters, which leases it from the town of Harrietstown. That's a good arrangement; maybe the village would be better off with something like it. A downhill ski center does require much more infrastructure and power than a cross-country venue like Dewey, but perhaps the right management group can make it work.
But we're skeptical about Mr. Branch's suggestion to lease it to the Friends of Mount Pisgah. This nonprofit booster group doesn't want to run the ski hill and is already hard-pressed to raise money for the new lift. Pisgah is not something for the village to dump on anyone; doing so would probably lead to its demise.
If a private entity really wants to lease Pisgah, the village board should strongly consider it. But as the people's stewards of this fine facility, board members should take responsibility for making sure it is there for future generations. Don't just dump it and run.
Pisgah gives the community's children a brilliant love of and skill in winter sports that sets them apart and adds to Saranac Lake's distinction as an attractive Adirondack lifestyle community. Every time people find out that a good skier or snowboarder learned the skill here - whether that skier is an Olympian or just behind them in the lift line - it not only makes them want to come here; it makes them want to move here to raise their children.
As we all just found out from 2010 census data this week, the average age of people in rural New York got older in the last decade. But Saranac Lake is not aging as quickly as other Adirondack communities like Lake Placid, Tupper Lake and the towns in Hamilton County. Also, census data has showed that Saranac Lake's population went up about 7 percent in those 10 years. Does this mean Saranac Lake is drawing young people, or seeing fewer of its children leave home?
That's hard to say. Anecdotally, we can say we know dozens of people in their 20s and 30s who moved here in the 2000s. School enrollment has gone down, but as parents ourselves, we know this is a great place to raise a family - and any other Saranac Lake area parent could tell you the same. One main reason is that there's so much to do here. And that brings us back to Pisgah.
Being an attractive place to move is one of Saranac Lake's greatest economic hopes. Pisgah is one of those attractions, one of the things that makes living here satisfying. Yes, lowering taxes would make it more attractive, too, but so far, somehow, what Saranac Lake is doing seems to be working.
We're glad Mr. Branch had the guts to open this can of worms. It isn't just a Pisgah problem. Dewey, the Adirondack Regional Airport, and numerous parks and athletic fields - these are public assets that are hard for any of our too-many, too-small municipalities to handle. Perhaps a parks and recreation district is the answer, perhaps some government restructuring, but some pooling of resources among the communities in the Saranac Lake area is long overdue.