State trims Belleayre trail plans; many disappointed with switch

By Jay Braman Jr.
For what may be the first time, opponents and supporters of the proposed Belleayre Resort have something in common. Key players from both sides are disappointed over the news that the state’s Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which operates Belleayre Mountain Ski Center, has dropped a major element, three miles of new trails on the eastern side, known as the Cathedral Glen section of the mountain, from the highly-publicized $45 million expansion plan for the facility.
It also remains unclear why the change was made, and who exactly made it.
Last September Governor Eliot Spitzer announced expansion plans for Belleayre as part of a public/private economic initiative for the region. The private portion is the Belleayre Resort at Catskill Park, a $400 million plan 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.
The ski center plan was to add another nine miles of trails to Belleayre. About two and-a-half- miles would be at the Highmount Ski Center, which the state plans to buy, and the state would construct about another two miles near Highmount plus develop three miles of new trails in the far eastern section of Belleayre. There would be an extra one-and-a-half miles developed where it would best suit the overall expansion project. The locations of those trails would be determined as the plans become more specifically formed.
However, last week the state released those specific plans and they no longer include those three miles of new trail on the eastern side, known as the Cathedral Glen section of the mountain.
“I’m disappointed. They have gotten rid of what was going to be some of the best skiing on the mountain,” said Pine Hill resident Richard Schaedle, and avid skier and leader of the Catskill Heritage Alliance.
The Alliance is a local citizens group that opposes the private portion of the development as currently proposed by Crossroads Ventures, LLC.. Alliance members seldom have anything in common with organizations like the Coalition to Save Belleayre, which strongly supports the Crossroads plan, but this week the leadership of both groups share the outlook that dropping the eastern expansion plans is a blow to Belleayre, and the region.
That became apparent last week when Joe Kelly, chairman of the coalition, shared a chairlift ride up to Belleayre’s summit while both were enjoying a day on the slopes.
“I told Rich that we’ve finally found something to agree on,” Kelly said.
At press time DEC had not yet responded to the question of why the expansion plan was reduced.
“That is a very good question,” said Kelly.