Traverse City Record-Eagle

July 23, 2013

Commissioners commit to funding of Hickory Hills

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — The money-losing Hickory Hills Ski Area appears safe from the budget ax for the next few years.

A majority of city commissioners said they favored a proposal to do a long-range study and master plan for the park and are willing to fund half of the estimated $32,000 cost. Commissioners said they hope the plan will reduce the cost of the park to city taxpayers but recognize it will likely never hit self-sufficiency.

"If we want to do grants and lower our costs, we have to do this study," said commissioner Mary Ann Moore. "To let it (close) would be a really big mistake."

The ski hill runs at an average $100,000 annual loss and commissioners had previously threatened to cut off funding after this ski season. Now a majority pledged to continue funding operations while the master plan is studied and implemented over three to 10 years.

The master plan for the park will look at more fully utilizing the park assets year-round, its management structure, financial sustainability, and possible future ski-hill developments.

Several supporters spoke in favor of continued operation of Hickory Hills as an important recreational opportunity for youth in the winter, including Ed Ness, president and CEO of Munson Healthcare.

Ness also said the ski hill is a quality of life indicator that helps Munson recruit professional talent.

Commissioners Mike Gillman and Barbara Budros indicated they may vote for the study when it comes back before the commission on Aug. 5 but aren't in favor of the city continuing to subsidize the park when just 38 percent of Hickory Hills users are city residents.

"The city is constantly being called upon to subsidize the quality of life of our neighbors," Gillman said. "I think we are being asked to pay too much for our share of use."

Other city commissioners countered all parks are subsidized but its easy to target Hickory Hills because it generates revenue that can be counted.

"All of our parks are used by people who don't live in Traverse City," said commissioner Jim Carruthers. "But we aren't charging people to come to our million dollar beachfront."

Several commissioners said they were impressed with the collaborative effort of a committee of park users and representatives from Garfield Township and Traverse City who proposed the master plan. About 60 percent of the users come from the city and the township and the 125-acre park sits inside the township's boundaries.

The support group Preserve Hickory and the Grand Traverse Area Ski Club have both pledged $4,000 each towards the study and the committee will ask Garfield Township in August to fund $8,000.