Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 21, 2013

City could decide future of Hickory Hills Ski Area


---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A new city manager will arrive in time to help decide the fate of one of the city's largest recreational properties.

Jered Ottenwess begins his new job Monday and will attend the city commission's study session that begins at 7 p.m. in the Governmental Center. The commission will consider a request to fund half of an estimated $32,000 cost to hire a consultant to create a master plan for the Hickory Hills Ski Area.

The ski hill runs at an average annual loss of $100,000 and city commissioners have threatened to drop funding after this ski season. Mayor Michael Estes said he will push commissioners to decide Monday if they truly intend to stop funding ski operations.

"That's the issue the city commission has to address: are you serious about cutting off operational funds for the ski hill," Estes said. "If you are then a study makes a lot of sense. But if you are just going to drag it out and fund it in perpetuity, why do we need a study."

The study funding request comes from the support group Preserve Hickory Hills and the Grand Traverse Ski Club, which have worked with city and Garfield Township representatives on a solution.

Tim Werner, who works with both groups, said the ski hill needs a master recreational plan if it has any chance of obtaining foundation or state recreational grant funds.

"There is also a sense that Hickory Hills is run with a piecemeal ... fix it when it's broken approach," Werner said. "It's not received the best long-term approach for what we see as a very important recreational resource for our community."

The planning effort also would include Garfield Township with the intent to create a more cooperative, long-term effort to maintain the ski hill. The 125-acre, city-owned park is inside Garfield Township and is listed in the township's overall recreational plan.

The ski club and support group plan to chip in $4,000 each and will ask Garfield Township to contribute $8,000 to the study.

The timeline for the study extends until April 2014 and likely wouldn't allow time for the groups to come up with a funding plan for the 2014-2015 ski season, Werner said.

"We're hoping this effort will create some momentum and the political will to fund us one more year as a bridge," Werner said. "We need to find a long-term solution."

Ottenwess said he will spend part of Monday learning about the ski hill. He expects to participate in the conversation.

"But I won't have a recommendation," Ottenwess said. "There's a lot to learn before I get to a point of making any recommendation."