Highmount, NY – Going back decades, Belleayre Mountain in New York’s western Catskills – whose fans value its old-school charm, family friendly terrain, and non-commercial atmosphere – has rarely received the same level of financial support bestowed upon the state’s other two government-owned and -operated ski areas, Whiteface and Gore in the Adirondacks. Being given comparative short shrift in the budgetary process over the years has forced Belleayre advocates to organize and formally demand from state representatives that the ski area be given adequate resources to continue operating and serve as an economic engine for the Route 28 corridor in Ulster and Delaware counties.
When the Olympic Regional Development Authority (ORDA) took over management of Belleayre from the Department of Environmental Conservation in 2012, it seemed like salvation was at hand as downstate skiers looked forward to the agency carrying out long overdue ski area improvements. They were also heartened by a comprehensive Unit Management Plan (UMP) that was approved by Governor Andrew Cuomo in December 2015 and included the acquisition of the land under the 78-acre former Highmount Ski Center next door (thus potentially removing it from the extensive “Lost Ski Areas of New York State” list), the installation of three new ski lifts and the replacement of two existing ski lifts, the addition of 16 new ski trails, expansions of the existing Discovery and Sunset Lodges, along with the construction of up to three additional parking areas and a Tomahawk Lodge. In the state’s press release at the time, Cuomo underscored: “Once these projects are completed, visitors to this majestic region hoping to hit the slopes will have an all new Belleayre Mountain to enjoy with friends and loved ones.”
That’s why a recent announcement from the state – that $20 million had been allocated for major upgrades at Whiteface and Gore on top of $10 million already earmarked for those two ski areas in the 2017-2018 ORDA budget, while Belleayre received absolutely no mention – caused concerned Friends of Belleayre supporters to post an online petition to ensure that the governor lives up to his promise to invest in the ski area, including long-overdue upgrades to its aging infrastructure and moving ahead with the approved UMP.
“We want and urge the Governor to start funding Belleayre’s Unit Management Plan (UMP) and live up to his own words of December 2015 in his grand announcement,” said a member of Friends of Belleayre, who declined to be named. “The governor’s press conference directing $20 million to the Olympic Regional Development Authority is greatly appreciated because it shows his support and understanding of the importance of winter tourism in mountain communities. What is hard to believe is that no money was allocated to a neglected state facility that is our economic engine. For years the mountain has been devoid of capital improvement while being held hostage waiting for a Unit Management Plan (UMP) to be approved. In December of 2015 with great fanfare the UMP was approved and the Governor proudly announced the objectives. If the Governor does not put any money in this year’s budget for Belleayre, that will mean that neglect has continued for two budget cycles since the approval of the UMP.”
Legislators from nearby Shandaken likewise reminded the governor of his earlier assurances to the ski area and the region, with Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, saying in a prepared statement, “He seems to have forgotten about Belleayre. As we work to fine tune the state budget in the coming weeks, I will be certain to remind him that Belleayre is deserving of added state attention.” Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, said in an emailed press statement: “As I have done every year since Belleayre was absorbed by the Olympic Regional Development Authority, I will continue to fight to assure that Belleayre and the community receive a fair share of ORDA’s capital investment. That was the promise made when the Legislature allowed Belleayre to come under the ORDA umbrella. I intend to require ORDA and the governor to honor that promise.”