Trails slashed from Belleayre's expansion; performance venue also chopped from plan

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By Jay Braman Jr.
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which last fall announced plans to add nine miles of trails to the state-owned Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, has cut that amount to only six miles because the state can’t afford the full $45-million project. At the same time, it appears that plans for a music amphitheater to be built near Belleayre by Crossroads Ventures has been scrapped, causing the Belleayre Conservatory to be alarmed.
As for the claim that the state can’t afford the full expansion, that’s the explanation provided by DEC spokesman Yancey Roy after some in the region expressed disappointment with the reduction, announced last week in the form of a Unit Management Plan (UMP).
“Based upon the state’s financial situation, it is not likely that funds will be available for the build-out of the proposed Belleayre East during the term of the proposed UMP amendment. Accord-ingly, that is being reserved for future consideration,” Roy said.
However Senator John Bonacic, a longtime advocate for Belleayre, doesn’t buy that excuse, calling it “nonsense.”
The senator said he felt the DEC was “giving in to the complaints of nearby ski areas rather than embracing the public mission of a publicly owned ski facility. By scaling back the UMP, we are saying that we want to be in the ski business, but only if it doesn’t offend anyone. Either you are in the ski business or you are not,” Bonacic said.
Last September Governor Eliot Spitzer announced expansion plans for Belleayre as part of a public/private economic initiative for the region. The plan has become known as the Agreement in Principal (AIP), a complicated arrangement between the state and a private developer to create what they hope will be a project that will be good for the Catskills. The private portion is the controversial Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, a $400 million plan by Crossroads Ventures LLC to build a golf course adjacent to the ski center, a hotel, a spa and residential units. The public portion called for $45 million in state funds to add trails, lifts and lodges to Belleayre. Both parts of the initiative are now under review by DEC.
Riverkeeper, Inc., The Catskill Center for Conservation and Development, Natural Resources Defense Council, New York Public Interest Research Group Fund, Theodore Gordon Flyfishers, Trout Unlimited, and Zen Environmental Studies Institute, all of which are environmental groups that publicly supported Spitzer’s plan, issued a joint statement supporting the removal of the trails.
Deborah Meyer DeWan of The Catskill Center said “additional ski development in this environmentally sensitive region runs the risk of damaging the watershed and trampling upon lands adjacent to those that would be protected as ‘forever wild’….particularly given the importance of the protecting the ecological integrity of the Forest Preserve and the character of the region. Therefore, we are pleased that DEC has removed the eastern trails and ski lift from its proposal.”
Joining those disappointed with the change, notably the Coalition to Save Belleayre and the Catskill Heritage Alliance, is Crossroads Ventures, whose spokesman Paul Rakov suggests the move was a political one.
“Clearly, this is a result of pressure from Greene County and anti-resort organizations who would rather see Belleayre close than expand,” Rakov said Wednesday.” This should be a wake up call to Delaware and Ulster county residents. They need to fight for their ski center and their livelihoods.”
Agreeing with Rakov, Bonacic added that given Belleayre’s success, Greene’s ski areas like Hunter and Windham have complained that Belleayre is cutting into their profits and want the State to raise ticket rates.
“As far as I am concerned, Belleayre ought to be reducing its ticket prices in an effort to bring more people into the sport of skiing and help the Catskill’s economy. I believe that if Belleayre continues to be successful, it brings more skiers into the sport and region, and all ski resorts will prosper,” Bonacic said.
Another apparent reduction in the plan is the removal of the amphitheater slated for what is known as “The Adelstein Property,” a 203-acre tract of land that would act as a link between the Highmount Spa portion of the Crossroads plan with the Village of Fleischmanns.
Mel Litoff, president of the Belleayre Music Conservatory, a non-profit organization that has provided concerts under a tent at Belleayre Ski Center, said Monday that he couldn’t find any mention of those in the scoping document released last week.
Litoff feels that a deal should be a deal.
“They’re stripping away everything that people liked about the plan,” he said. “It’s very distressing.”